Global Study to Explore Issues of Equity in Higher Education Around the World


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By Roberta Bassett, Tertiary Education Specialist, Human Development Network    

The ability of a society to produce, select, adapt, commercialize, and use knowledge is critical for sustained economic growth and improved living standards. As a locus for both knowledge creation and dissemination, tertiary education institutions help countries build globally competitive economies by developing a skilled, productive and flexible labor force and by creating, applying and spreading new ideas and technologies. In middle and low-income countries, tertiary education works to build the institutional capacity that is essential to reducing poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

For that growth to be inclusive, opportunities to access and succeed in higher education must be as equitable as possible. A global study is being undertaken on Equity of Access and Success in Tertiary Education, funded by the government of the Netherlands through the Bank-Netherlands Partnership Program (BNPP).

This work seeks to define appropriate measures of inequalities in tertiary education, and document the scope, significance and consequences of disparities in tertiary education opportunities. The study will expand the understanding of the main determinants of these inequalities, and offer concrete recommendations for effective policies, both monetary and non-financial, directed toward widening participation and improving the chances of success of under-privileged youths.
The main target groups this study focuses on are individuals from lower income groups; groups with a minority status on the basis of their ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural or age characteristics; women; and people with disabilities. The study recognizes three main dimensions of equity:

  • Equity of access to enroll in tertiary education programs and institutions;
  • Equity of results, which relates to opportunities to advance in and complete tertiary level studies; and
  • Equity of outcomes, which looks at the labor market outcomes of various groups.

To broaden the reach of this work, we have launched a new website to share background information generated thus far and to promote exchange among partners and stakeholders. Find out more and access background materials on the global study at -- featuring an overview by Jamil Salmi, the World Bank's Tertiary Education Coordinator.

We encourage your input and insight, which will help shape the course of our work. Some key questions we we would like to hear your feedback on follow:

1) Do you believe the dialogue on equity in tertiary education should be consistent across countries and regions, or should localized contexts be the main driver for equity considerations?  Can there be a unified message on equity in relation to tertiary education?

2) What do you perceive are the most significant equity challenges for tertiary education?  In your country/region?

We look forward to hearing your feedback!


Photo credit: © Jamie Martin / World Bank



Education Team

World Bank Education News

Join the Conversation

Higer ed
September 25, 2010

i think the biggest challenge for tertiary education is dealing with local cultures. For instance some cultures do not send girls to schools because of their religious/cultural beliefs. I think this is a very difficult situation.

Roberta Malee Bassett
October 12, 2010

You are absolutely right, that local cultures influence issues of equity/access to all forms of education. We continue to strive to present culturally contextual analyses of the relevant issues to our global equity study, to explore these differences as much as possible. Indeed, it is not just gender, but disability issues, religious restrictions, or class considerations, for instance, which might be the main barriers in some local contexts. Regardless, we are keenly aware that there will never be one assessment or answer to issues of equity in education, and we hope to explore the array of issues as well as successful response mechanisms available in the most complete way that we can. Thank you very much for your comment, and I hope you will continue to check in with our ongoing work to offer your perspectives and insights.