Philanthropy in education: What is education for?

Kathleen Smithers, Emma Rowe (Presenter), Anna Hogan (Presenter), Stewart Riddle (Respondent)

Research output: Other contribution to conferencePresentation onlypeer-review


Dr Emma Rowe, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.
Dr Anna Hogan, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Dr Kathleen Smithers, Charles Sturt University, Australia
Discussant: Associate Professor Stewart Riddle, University of Southern Queensland, Australia

The focus of this symposium is philanthropy in education, and it poses the question: what is education for? Through this prompt question, presentations will explore how philanthropy alters the provision of education in Australia and Zimbabwe. The discussant is Associate Professor Stewart Riddle, whose work examines the democratisation of schooling systems, increasing access and equity in education and how schooling can respond to critical social issues in complex contemporary times. The symposium raises questions about the increasing presence of philanthropy in education, and asks, how do philanthropic funding arrangements support education, and at what cost? Further, by introducing philanthropic funds into education and reducing government support, the question is raised about who, or what, education is for?

The first paper explores venture philanthropy in Australia, and how it unfolds in the context of public schooling in Australia, with reference to governance, policy and practice. The second paper explores how public school parents are operating as new philanthropists, solving the problem of inadequate state funding through private capital raising. The third paper explores the role of philanthropy in schooling in Zimbabwe and how tourism creates complex dynamics in learning environments for students in schools. These papers intersect in their examination of new forms of philanthropy in schooling, and the manner in which philanthropy is fundamentally shaping public schools and government policies.

These presentations address the rising and urgent issue of philanthropy in education. As philanthropic funding increases, whether through venture philanthropy or individual-small scale philanthropy, there is an urgent need to examine the cost and gains of entrepreneurial cultures inserted into public education. As part of this unfolding, consideration is made to the question of ‘what is education for’ and who public education serves, or will serve in the future.

Philanthrocapitalism and the state: mapping the rise of venture philanthropy in public education in Australia
Dr Emma Rowe
This paper maps the rise of venture philanthropy in public education in Australia, exploring how policy networks mobilise high-level systemic reform and governance technologies. This is philanthrocapitalism, a fundamental shift for policy mobility and modes of redistribution.
Drawing upon network ethnography, I focus on a node called Social Ventures Australia (SVA), an organisation committed to revolutionizing venture philanthropy in Australian education reform. SVA, the brainchild of McKinsey and Company and multinational corporations, is a useful example to map how venture philanthropy leverages resources, and in the process, fundamentally changes the shape, functionality and form of traditional government.
SVA have successfully advocated for several intermediaries, such as an evidence broker (Evidence for Learning), a national charity (Schools Plus) and a national education research institute (Australian Education Research Organisation). Overlapping philanthropy and state, the intermediaries stand as a critical assemblage and technology of governance.
Venture philanthropy and the way in which these networks achieve high-level systemic reform is under-researched in Australia. It stands as a critical lever of policy reform in public education. This paper will scrutinise and map the way these networks mobilise reform and function as an identifiable form of economic exchange.

Running the canteen for profit: New philanthropy in Queensland state schools
Dr Anna Hogan
In a globally austere policy context, state financing of public services has been positioned as perennially ‘in crisis’ and in need of private intervention. In fact, there is a general assumption – in education policy and practice – that philanthropic donations are a useful supplement to the public funding of schooling. While much research investigates the role of billionaire philanthropists and their influence in bringing about systemic changes to public school systems, this article focuses on the role of parents, and Parent and Citizen (P&C) associations in autonomous public schools. Through qualitative analysis of P&C interview participants I discuss how the role of P&Cs in Queensland has shifted from them being largely ad hoc community fundraisers to profitable business operators, particularly through the running of profitable canteens, Outside Hours School Care (OHSC), uniform shops and book shops. Through this analysis I argue that public school parents are now operating as new philanthropists, solving the problem of inadequate state funding through private capital raising. Echoing previous research, I note equity concerns here, including the stratification of the public school system and further, a concerning lack of transparency around the extent to which some public schools are being nourished by the deep coffers of successful P&Cs.

“What is your name, where do you come from, what is your grade?” Using art-based interviews to highlight the experience of children hosting school tours in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe
Dr Kathleen Smithers
In Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe, a broken education system has led to schools relying on donors to support/provide fundamental resources. This donor support is sometimes sought by school leaders through funding provided from school tours, conducted as part of tour packages of southern Africa. Few studies have examined the implications of including a school tour in a mass tourism itinerary. This paper explores the philanthropic intervention into schooling using a case study of one school in Matabeleland North, a school that hosts school tours in exchange for small gifts and, sometimes substantial, financial donations.
This paper reports on a three-month ethnographic study exploring the effect of the school tours. Data generated from the study included semi-structured interviews with teachers, students and tourism staff. Using a critical view of Development as a discursive framing for analysis, this paper reports on the art-based interviews with children. It argues that students experience the tourism in a manner that is repetitive, and at times, unproductive for learning.
Given that one of the intended outcomes of school tours is a better learning environment for the students, the school tour may not be meeting its intended aim. The school tour represents an incursion of development discourse and capitalism into schooling. As philanthropy in schooling is increasing, and has been for the last few decades, it is of pivotal importance to examine the manner in which tourism in schools effects the day-to-day experiences of students and how dominant discourses around ‘development’ shape the interaction of tourism and schooling.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventAustralian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2022: National Conference - University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 27 Nov 202201 Dec 2022


ConferenceAustralian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2022
Abbreviated titleTransforming the future of education: The role of research
OtherThe Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) is excited to announce its first face-to-face conference in two years. It will take place on Sunday 27 November – Thursday 1 December (Pre-Conference: 27 November) at the University of South Australia, City West Campus. 

The AARE 2022 Conference is SOLD OUT! Please contact ConferenceNational via email if you would like to join the wait list.

Taken-for-granted ways of thinking and working in early learning settings, schools, universities and other sites of formal and informal education have been disrupted in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, urgent climate change challenges, the policy drive towards technological solutions and increasing social and economic ruptures. One of the most urgent ongoing questions in these times is how to live with others in a world of plurality and difference? This year’s conference theme invites education researchers to reimagine their ways of thinking and working to interrupt or disrupt the taken-for-granted and to be research informing. We invite papers to consider different ways to engage with the conference theme of ‘Transforming the Future of Education – the Role of Research’.

Following AARE’s first virtual conference in 2021, this year’s event will be co-hosted with the University of South Australia and celebrate the return to a face-to-face forum. The conference will offer delegates the opportunity to connect, network, share and learn in the delightful city of Adelaide.
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