From Eldis:

Title:Beyond the ABCs: higher education and developing countries
Authors: D. Kapur; M. Crowley
Publisher: Center for Global Development, USA, 2008

This paper analyses a relatively neglected facet of the complex debate regarding human capital – higher (or tertiary) education. It addresses five broad questions examining higher education in developing countries:

  • are the economic effects of higher education on developing countries different from those in industrialised countries, with its links with labour markets of lesser importance than its impact on institutional development?
  • how does the impact of higher education depend on the type of education and its beneficiaries?
  • what should be the proper role of the state to ensure not just quality but also equity and access, as developing countries face growing demand pressures?
  • how should countries rethink the provision of higher education in an “open economy” from seeking education abroad or encouraging foreign providers into the country or simply linking domestic institutions with foreign quality assurance mechanisms?
  • do new technologies offer developing countries a new paradigm to expand the provision of high quality but low cost higher education?

The aim is not to provide categorical answers to these complex questions, but rather highlight the analytical and empirical gaps with regard to each of these questions.

Overall the paper argues that there are more old-fashioned robust reasons for developing countries to rethink and reform their higher education systems. Higher education is critical to build the human capital that in turn builds the very institutions that are regarded as an indispensible factor of development – the accountants, doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers – that comprise the middle class.

The role of higher education, in both theoretical and policy terms lacks adequate empirical knowledge of what is happening within universities and to the students who spend a considerable part of their prime years in these institutions. While it is clear that there has been a substantial growth in higher education whether measured by the number of students or amounts spent, it is unclear just how meaningful this large growth is. Researchers have found it exceedingly difficult to get a good grip on two critical output measures – how to measure quality in higher education and how to determine the value added by higher education over and beyond the student’s innate abilities. Yet, even if the above argument is accepted, the policy implications are not clear.