In an open letter published today, 88 civil society organizations have urged investors to cease their support for the multinational for-profit chain of private schools Bridge International Academies (BIA), which runs over 500 schools in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India.
These organizations are calling investors’ attention to a series of concerning practices by BIA and the associated legal and reputational risks they incur. These practices include lack of transparency, poor labour conditions, and non-respect of the rule of law in host countries. Investors in BIA range from well-known private investors such as the Omidyar Network, the Zuckerberg Education Ventures, and Bill Gates to public State agencies from the USA, the United Kingdom, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and the European Union.
According to the letter, BIA has been acting in defiance of the law and has a negative impact on the right to education of thousands of children in countries of Africa and other regions.
The recent decision of the Ugandan Minister of Education, in February 2018, to close Bridge Schools in the country for failing to meet minimum educational as well as
health and safety standards, following an 18-months negotiation with the company, illustrates BIA’s disregard for national laws.
According to Salima Namusobya, of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights in Uganda: “The Government of Uganda has been negotiating with Bridge International Academies and giving them time to comply with the law. But Bridge has failed to meet basic standards and deliver on their promises, and the Government is currently closing illegal schools. Yet, the company is still supported by investors abroad that would never accept such a situation in their own country. Investors will be complicit in this disaster if they do not remove their support.”
Other concerns that have been documented by various independent sources include higher costs than those advertised by the company, failure to register schools, use of unapproved curriculum, failure to meet teacher certification requirements, and discriminatory impacts.
Public institutions, such as the United Nations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee, have also expressed specific concerns about BIA regarding the quality of education, relationship with governments, lack of compliance with government regulations, and high cost of fees.
“Bridge Academies came to our country last year, with the promise to improve quality as part of a government program. But they have only managed to marginally improve outcomes, at an astronomical cost, by pushing out teachers and mass-expelling children. We trust that this new call and the further evidence provided will trigger investors´ actions in line with their due diligence obligations to stop supporting Bridge’s operations,” said Anderson Miamen, from the Liberian Coalition on Transparency and Accountability in Education The signatory organisations are calling on investors to exit in the shortest possible time from their investment in BIA, including investments via intermediaries, and to fully discharge their legal due diligence obligations and responsibilities by making no further financing commitments to BIA.
“Private investors do have a role to play in improving education infrastructure and services. However, this does not mean that they can violate our laws and standards and treat their teachers or parents in an undignified and disrespectful manner. This would never be allowed in the West, why should we allow it here? Foreign investors who add value to our country and our people are welcome, but those that support illegal companies that undermine the right to education are not.” reacted Linda Oduor-Noah, from the Kenyan-based organisation East African Centre for Human Rights. This letter comes seven months after an open Call to investors of 1st August 2017 calling on investors to cease support to BIA.