Call for Action: Help Shape Our Work on Equity in Higher Education


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Co-authored by Roberta Bassett and Jennifer Pye, Tertiary Education Team

We are reaching out to the global tertiary education community to create a forum for discussing equity in access and success. For us, as part of the growing community of bloggers on education at the World Bank, feedback from our readers is important to help fulfill the institution’s mission of fighting poverty and supporting human development. Your views on our work, insights and knowledge contribute to our quest to further our understanding on how best to go about providing equitable access to educational opportunities for all. We hope you will take some time to read this blog entry and explore our web site on Equity of Access and Success in Tertiary Education to learn more. Your comments will feed into our report on the situation of equity in tertiary education that we will be drafting over the next few months based on the background reports and studies found on our website. We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to help us to drive our work forward and improve equitable access to education for all.

 Learning What Works to Drive Equity in Tertiary Education

In our travels—to partner countries and conferences alike—we encounter a consistent narrative on issues of expanding access and opportunities in tertiary education. Just last month, at the bi-annual conference of the OECD's Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education in Paris, participants repeatedly examined the challenges of “doing more with less” in the context of increasing demand for tertiary education from both employers and students. As policy drivers, one specific challenge that we face is promoting a constant awareness and integration of equity considerations within any tertiary education initiative. In many cases, even the best intended initiatives can omit equity as an underlying directive for educational expansion. It is with this in mind that we have embarked on an ambitious study to explore equity in tertiary education as broadly as possible.

Our global study on equity and access to tertiary education, with funding from the Bank Netherlands Partnership Program (BNPP), aims to define measures of inequality in tertiary education, document the scope, significance and consequences of disparities in tertiary education opportunities, and expand our 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.

Inequality in Tertiary Education Around the World

Of course, any inequalities measured in tertiary education are, to a large extent, extensions of inequality at lower levels of education, reflecting structural barriers (income, ethnicity, gender, language, culture, religion, disability, caste, residence, etc.) and impacting the economic and social opportunities of many talented and capable young people. Recent research shows that the most effective equity promotion policies to increase opportunities for disadvantaged students at the tertiary level are those that combine financial aid with measures to overcome non-financial obstacles.

The following  target groups form the core constituencies around which our equity examinations are being conducted: individuals from the lower income groups, groups with a minority status defined on the basis of their ethnic,  linguistic, religious, cultural or age characteristics,females, and people with disabilities.

Join Us in the Dialogue on Equity in Access and Success

The financial partnership with BNPP has allowed us to invest in related partnerships with other organizations, such as the International Association of Universities and the Centre for Higher Education Equity Research at the University of Sussex, and individual global equity experts, to drive a discourse on equity in tertiary education that is more encompassing and comprehensive than any that we know to have preceded it.  We would be thrilled if one outcome of this work is our facilitating the creation of an engaged, supportive, and sustainable community committed to promoting equity across the tertiary spectrum around the world, which is why we’d love to hear from you! Feedback left by Dec 15 will be utilized in our ongoing work:

  • What do you perceive are the most significant equity challenges for tertiary education in your country/region?
  • Please share successful examples of initiatives/policies you know of that have advanced equity in tertiary education for under represented groups?


Photo credit: World Bank/EAP


Jamil Salmi

Tertiary Education Coordinator

Join the Conversation

Christine Horansky
October 19, 2010

Hi Roberta and team,

On the topic of gender equity in higher education, may I share an example of international partnership between universities to promote women's higher education. Hopefully this can be used as a possible best practice in promoting equality of access and achievement for women across the developmental spectrum. Founded by the US's historical Seven Sisters colleges, Women's Education Worldwide ( is an initiative that brings together leaders of women's colleges from around the world to explore the societal challenges they face and strengthen the global partnership between insititutions that dedicate themselves to the mission of women's education and leadership. While it is crucial to mainstream gender equality in co-ed universities, women's colleges have played a leading role in advancing the women's education agenda around the world by providing opportunities and advocating for women's education in developing countries and in contexts where women have culturally or historically been marginalized from higher education and positions of leadership within society. The opportunity to learn from one another across the globe provides these institutions and their young women a community and platform for moving women's education forward, wherever they are. Perhaps similar global knowledge sharing and capacity building partnerships could provide similarly fruitful for other other dimensions of equity.


March 13, 2012

I am happy to know that there is a forum to discuss education and development here. I was wondering if the final report of the WB's global study of Equity of access and success in TE has been released.
I would appreciate your information on this issue.