The efficiency and quality of services provided by the public sector remain a topical issue in public administration. One of the possible recipes for improving quality is the decision made a decade ago to use non-governmental organisations that are better aware of people’s expectations and offer services that meet society’s needs. According to the National Progress Strategy “Lithuania 2030”, budgetary institutions should provide only those public services that cannot be provided by NGOs, community organisations and business enterprises. The National Progress Program for 2014-2020 includes an indicator that by the end of 2020, at least 15% of municipal public services must be transferred to communities, NGOs or the private sector.
Unfortunately, education is still the most closed area of public services that is difficult for independent providers to enter. According to the NGO Information and Support Centre data, out of the more than 1 billion euros allocated for educational services in Lithuania’s municipalities in 2018 slightly less than 3% on average was given to non-budgetary educational entities. While in other areas, such as sports (about 12-13%), social services (about 7-8%) and culture (about 4%), the transfer of services is much faster.
To find out why the transfer of educational services in municipalities is stalling and what it takes for an NGO to become an active provider of educational services, the Network of Education NGOs has prepared case studies of five municipalities. In April-December 2019, the Network’s experts visited Vilnius, Šiauliai and Alytus municipalities and Alytus and Tauragė district municipalities. They met there with representatives of education NGOs, members of municipal councils, administrative staff, representatives of budgetary educational institutions to discuss opportunities for NGOs’ participation in education.
Although the conditions for NGOs’ activities and attitude towards them differ in each municipality, the transfer of educational services is not substantially implemented in any of the analysed municipalities. In large cities, such as Vilnius and Šiauliai, the socio-economic environment is more favourable: NGOs can form and operate without the local government’s help. However, in smaller, demographically declining, less economically developed regions, the municipality’s focus on fostering partnerships–both on legal-administrative and financial levels–can often be a key condition for organisations to provide public services. Unfortunately, municipalities are more inclined to choose safe solutions in education–to maintain and develop a network of subordinate institutions and cooperate in the public sector bubble.
Mutual trust must first and foremost be achieved to achieve change, and both sides–local authorities and NGOs–must make efforts. One of the first possible steps is NGOs’ real involvement in resolving educational issues in non-governmental organisations’ councils and education councils. Municipalities are recommended to implement capacity building measures for local organisations (financing, provision of premises, training and consulting), and non-governmental organisations–to join associations and offer their services more actively.
In 2019 – 2020, the Network also conducted an analysis of education service providers in 12 municipalities. It included analysis of statistical data, visits to 4 municipalities (Kaunas city and district, Utena, Kazlų Rūda), where expert discussions with local politicians, representatives of municipal administrations and local NGOs were held, and generalised as well as individualised recommendations for municipalities and sets of indicators for proposed changes were prepared.
The main problems that are common to all areas of education and are indicated in different forms in all municipalities:
The problem highlighted by both education providers and municipal representatives in charge of education was the large amount of control (which does not affect educational attainment or improve educational microclimate, but instead has a contrary effect) and controlling institutions that communicate punishment as their primary goal. Education providers’ punishment in these institutions should be systematically transformed into assistance and cooperation with educational organisations.