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World Bank ombudsman to launch investigation into IFC funding of Bridge International Academies

The World Bank’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), has published a report that finds “substantial concerns” regarding the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s investment in for-profit education provider Bridge International Academies and has announced that they will launch an investigation into the matter.

Following a complaint made by current and former Bridge staff and parents of Bridge students in Kenya, the CAO report concludes that the allegations of adverse impacts to teachers, parents and students; the risk profile of the schools in light of their number, location and construction methods; and the registration status of the schools and adherence to relevant health and safety requirements are substantial concerns making an investigation the appropriate response.  
 
The compliance appraisal will investigate the adequacy of the IFC’s due diligence and supervision, looking in particular at whether the IFC took sufficient steps to assure itself that Bridge complied with national law and standards, IFC policy requirements for transparency and community participation, labour rights, and health and safety standards. It is due to be completed in 2020.  
 
The IFC has invested $13.5 million in Bridge’s parent company NewGlobe Schools Inc to date. Despite being alerted of evidence of the company’s malpractices after their initial investment in 2014, the IFC further invested in the company in 2016.  
 
Education International’s research on Bridge International Academies has been crucial to exposing Bridge’s malpractices. EI’s 2016 study of Bridge in Kenya showed that Bridge services were of poor quality, inaccessible for the very poor and disadvantaged and unaffordable for most families in the communities in which it operates. Furthermore, it showed that the large majority of Bridge teacher were unqualified. Research into Bridge schools in Uganda in 2016 revealed that the standardised ‘Academy-in-a-box’ business model used by Bridge to cut costs meant that quality was compromised. More recently, the 2019 study What do we really know about Bridge International Academies reviewed the available evidence on Bridge, finding that Bridge’s claims to provide quality education are unfounded and that in fact the company offers poor quality schooling and exploits vulnerable families.  
 
For EI, though we welcome the steps taken to hold the IFC accountable, this investigation is too little, too late. In light of the damning evidence, EI has been calling on the IFC and other international donors to stop investing in Bridge for years (see for instance here and here). EI now again appeals to investors such as Pearson, DFID, Facebook, Microsoft and the Omidyar Network to immediately stop funding Bridge and to take stock of whether due diligence was exercised when deciding to invest in the company.  
 
 
EI has also been calling on the World Bank to stopping funding and promoting privatisation more broadly for years (see for instance here, and here). During the IFI’s annual meetings just two weeks, EI repeated this call. Yet the Bank continues to fund private education providers, promote privatisation policies and fund public-private partnerships across the world. It is high time for the Bank to finally stop ignoring the evidence of privatisation’s harmful effects on equity, quality and the right to education.