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Submitted by Michael Crawford on

The problem in the 1980's was not overinvestment in tertiary education per se. It was massive rent-seeking by elites through having the state pay for their children's university. Tertiary education was a way for elites, who, at the time, were the only ones in most developing countries whose children finished anything resembling a decent secondary education, to extract resources from the rest of society. Most tax systems were excise taxes on commodities, produced by the poor (Ghana's cocoa boards for example). The Bank rightly opposed these overt transfers from poor to rich. It also noted that many universities were simply doorways to sinecure jobs in public administration--a significant multiplier to the rents.

So, in effect, one could not talk about the value of tertiary education across countries back in the day the way one can now. The situation is quite different now. Regressive tertiary education finance still exists in some places, but it is no longer the whole or the main story. We are having a better conversation today, focused on what TE does for the average citizen. But we should, when we bring in the past, remember correctly why we held our erstwhile positions.