Venture philanthropy in public education: governance, policy and practice

The challenge

In 2018 a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that inequity in Australian education was a major issue. It has resulted in a gap of three years of schooling between students who attend advantaged and disadvantaged schools. These inequalities directly relate to funding disparities that are both a cause and a consequence of school social segregation — schools that are made up of students from a particular socioeconomic background. Disadvantaged schools in Australia tend to be populated by disadvantaged students, have far fewer resources (books, facilities, laboratories) and struggle to attract and retain experienced teachers.

In recent years, Australia has experienced a significant growth of infrastructure designed to bolster venture philanthropy and public-private partnerships in public education as a way to close the equity gap. However, as a relatively new initiative in Australia, we currently have little understanding of the efficacy of these partnerships and their capacity to boost educational equity, improve school effect and school resourcing. Without any long-term national studies, the role of philanthropy in policy-making and reform efforts is unclear, and so too the role of intermediary organisations (as supported by philanthropies) in shaping education reform and practice at the school, state and Commonwealth level.

Is it an innovative solution to growing equity problems in Australian schools or a way for big business to profiteer and influence young minds?

Project overview

This study will engage directly with public school communities and key stakeholders to understand the impact of philanthropy on school governance, policy and practice; and its capacity to develop innovative responses to enduring global challenges such as educational equity and mediate the relationship between disadvantage and educational outcomes. School effect will be conceptualised via school resourcing and academic achievement gaps between schools.

This project will study and engage with six public schools, consisting of two visits per year — once in term 2 and once in term 3. The repeat visits over three years will assist in developing a longer-term understanding of venture philanthropy, which can at times be short-term injections of funds. The schools will be geographically mixed in terms of metropolitan, regional and remote. School resourcing is defined in the literature as the condition or quality of the learning facilities; qualified and experienced teachers; and the supply and quality of up-to-date textbooks and other learning materials. The research will involve interviews with relevant staff including follow-up interviews; collecting school newsletters, marketing material, web-based data (e.g. website); and statistical data (enrolment data; financial data; and standardised testing data over three years).


This project will illuminate the impact of philanthropy on educational equity and improving academic outcomes as well as its impact on other forms of revenue (government funding; parent-generated revenue from voluntary fees; and fundraising). The ethnography will explore how philanthropy reaches into schools, articulating school-based policies, agendas and priorities.

This study has the potential to position Australia as a thought-leader in this field—an emerging field of significance—and learn from international policy, practice and scholarship for comparative purposes.

Project team

Dr Emma Rowe




Australian Research Council DECRA – Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

More information

Emma Rowe (2024). Network ethnography in education: A literature review of network ethnography as a methodology and how it has been applied in critical policy studies. In: Analysing Education Policy Theory and Method. M. Stacey and N. Mockler. New York & London: Routledge.

Emma Rowe (2023). Invited submission: “Inquiry into the state education system in Victoria”. Inquiry into the state education system in Victoria.

Emma Rowe (2023). Venture philanthropy in public schools in Australia: tracing policy mobility and policy networks. Journal of Education Policy, 38(1): 1-22.

Emma Rowe, Sarah Langman, Christopher Lubienski (2023). Privatising public schools via product pipelines: Teach For Australia, policy networks and profit. Journal of Education Policy, 1-25.

Laura B. Perry, Emma Rowe, Christopher Lubienski (2023). Comparative Perspectives on School Segregation. London and New York: Routledge.

Laura B. Perry, Emma Rowe, Christopher Lubienski (2022). School segregation: theoretical insights and future directions. Comparative Education, 58(1), 1-15.

Emma Rowe (2022). Policy networks and venture philanthropy: a network ethnography of ‘Teach for Australia. Journal of Education Policy, 1-19.

Emma Rowe (2022). The assemblage of inanimate objects in educational research: mapping venture philanthropy, policy networks and evidence brokers. International Journal of Educational Research, 114, 102005.

Emma Rowe (2022). Tracing the rise of venture philanthropy in public schools in Australia: policy mobility and policy networks. American Educational Research Association. [Thursday, April 21 – Monday, April 25 2022]. San Diego.

Emma Rowe (2022). The assemblage of inanimate objects in educational research: mapping venture philanthropy, policy networks and evidence brokers. International Journal of Educational Research, Special Issue: Policy Networks in Education, 114, 102005.

Emma Rowe, Laura B. Perry (2022). Voluntary school fees in segregated public schools: how selective public schools turbo-charge inequity and funding gaps. Comparative Education, 58(1): 106-123.

Emma Rowe (2022). Philanthrocapitalism and the state: mapping the rise of venture philanthropy in public education in Australia. ECNU Review of Education 6(4): 518-540.

Emma Rowe (2021a). Who stands to benefit? We all need to know (November 15, 2021). Retrieved from


venture philanthropy, philanthropy, public education