Tertiary Education (Higher Education)


Knowledge and advanced skills are critical determinants of a country's economic growth and standard of living as learning outcomes are transformed into goods and services, greater institutional capacity, a more effective public sector, a stronger civil society, and a better investment climate. Good quality, merit-based, equitable, efficient tertiary education and research are essential parts this transformation. Both developing and industrial countries benefit from the dynamic of the knowledge economy. The capacity for countries to adopt, disseminate, and maximize rapid technological advances is dependent on adequate systems of tertiary education. Improved and accessible tertiary education and effective national innovations systems can help a developing country progress toward sustainable achievements in the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those goals related to all levels of education, health, and gender equity.

The World Bank is working to encourage not only better-quality outcomes from tertiary education worldwide, but also to promote more efficient tertiary education institutions that innovate and respond positively to meaningful performance-based allocation of resources and accountability systems. Such improvements can stimulate economic growth and help to stem the outward flow of highly skilled human capital by supporting cultures of quality and productivity.

What is Tertiary Education and why is it important?
Tertiary education broadly refers to all post-secondary education, including but not limited to universities. Universities are clearly a key part of all tertiary systems, but the diverse and growing set of public and private tertiary institutions in every country—colleges, technical training institutes, community colleges, nursing schools, research laboratories, centers of excellence, distance learning centers, and many more—forms a network of institutions that support the production of the higher-order capacity necessary for development.

What has the World Bank been doing to support tertiary education?

The World Bank has been active since 1963 in supporting the growth and diversification of tertiary education systems in developing countries and in promoting essential policy reforms to make the sector more efficient, relevant, equitable, transparent, and responsive. In the 1970s and 1980s much of the support provided by World Bank tertiary education projects was piecemeal, with a narrow focus on the establishment of new programs or on discrete quality improvement measures for existing teaching and research activities. An internal review of implementation experience with tertiary education project undertaken in 1992 and an assessment of recent and ongoing interventions in this sub-sector have offered critical insights into more productive ways of supporting tertiary education reforms and innovations.

Examples of recent initiatives supported by Bank lending and knowledge programs in tertiary education include:

How much lending takes place in the area of tertiary education?

From 2003 to 2012 the World Bank lent over US$ 3.7 billion for 126 education projects with tertiary education components in 61 countries. In the ten years from 2003 - 2012, Bank lending for tertiary education averaged US$ 369 million per year.

The South Asia region received the largest share (34%) of Bank lending for tertiary education over the last 10 years, followed by the Latin America and Caribbean region (30%). The East Asia and Pacific accounted for 15%. The Africa region had 15%. The Middle East and North Africa region had 4%. The Europe and Central Asia region received 2%. Currently, the World Bank's education portfolio has over 76 active projects with tertiary education components to support tertiary education in developing countries.

World Bank lending levels are available at the Education Historical Lending Figures.

With whom does the World Bank work on issues of tertiary education?

In terms of institutional partners, the Bank works in coordination with the efforts of several academic institutions and multinational organizations. In the United States, Boston College's Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) and the State University of New York's campuses at Albany and at Buffalo are notable centers for research on international tertiary education, as is the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

In addition, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—including its headquarters in Paris, its European Centre for Higher Education (UNESCO-CEPES) in Romania, and the International UNESCO Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC)—collect and share complementary and highly informative data on international higher education. In some instances, these and other international associations and organizations specifically partner with the Bank on developing research initiatives and other mutually beneficial endeavors.

With the World Bank education policy placing so much emphasis on the importance of basic education, is tertiary education being neglected?

On the contrary, the World Bank supports comprehensive strategies that address the needs of client countries at all levels—basic, secondary, tertiary, and beyond. The Bank recognizes that tertiary education is often overlooked by other donor agencies and, therefore, is an area of education that requires true commitment on the part of the Bank to promote and support tertiary education initiatives. Tertiary education programs have accounted for over $8 billion in loans since 1963, and the World Bank recognizes further that the knowledge economy required well-developed education at all levels, including and, perhaps especially, at the tertiary level.

What has the World Bank identified as the most promising directions for the development/evolution of tertiary education?

In supporting the actual implementation of tertiary education reforms, the World Bank gives priority to programs and projects that can bring about positive developments and innovations by

  • Increasing institutional diversification
  • Strengthening science and technology research and development capacity
  • Improving the quality and relevance of tertiary education
  • Promoting greater equity mechanisms to assist disadvantaged students
  • Establishing sustainable financing systems to encourage responsiveness and flexibility
  • Strengthening management capacities
  • Enhancing and expanding ICT capacity to reduce the digital divide

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