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Equitable Higher Education

teenage girl studentsAchieving Equity in Higher Education

Project summary

Higher education is gaining momentum as a focal policy point in the international development agenda. Following its neglect in the Education for All framework and Millennium Development Goals, the post-2015 development goals includes a specific target on higher education, with a particular focus on achieving equality of access to higher education for all. Our research aims to assess the current state of higher education and prospects for the future, with a particular focus on extending equitable access. It is driven by two complementary strands.

The first strand is concerned with identifying who gets access to higher education in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular focus on poverty and gender. Through this, it establishes the baseline from which efforts towards equal access to quality higher education provision need to begin. This analysis is undertaken using large-scale secondary data, in the form of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS).

In addition, data from the Young Lives programme are used to to identify prior levels of learning, taking account of individual and family background characteristics. By combining the DHS and Young Lives analysis, this strand aims to provide an assessment of the potential for equitable higher education growth, in order to achieve post-2015 goals.

The second strand focuses on the financing of education, in general, and of higher education, in particular. The aim is to explore how funding and governance strategies can ensure that the benefits of good quality higher education reach all societal groups, against a backdrop of unequal distribution of government expenditure to the poorest groups, particularly at secondary and higher education levels. This strand also draws on DHS data and complements them with national data from selected countries, as well as official World Bank and UNESCO statistics.

Research team:

Professor Pauline Rose

Dr Sonia Ilie


University of Cambridge


April 2015-July 2015


Ilie, S., Rose, P. 2017. Who benefits from public spending on higher education in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa? Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education

Ilie, S., Rose, P. 2016. Is equal access to higher education in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa achievable by 2030? Higher Education, doi:10.1007/s10734-016-0039-3

Blogs and media:

Which countries are best at widening access to higher education?, Times Higher Education. December 2018

Education access problem ‘is poverty, not gender’, Times Higher Education. January 2017.

Higher education access targets ‘set to be missed’ in the developing world. Times Higher Education. September 2016.

Overcoming inequalities in access to higher education. Commonwealth Education Partnerships 2015/6.

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