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Equity of Access and Success in Tertiary Education - Conceptual Approach

Equity of Access and Success in Tertiary Education

Background | Objectives and Target Groups | Methodology

Given the extensive social and private benefits that result from tertiary education, inclusive access and success are essential for achieving social justice and ensuring the realization of the full potential of all young people. While acknowledging the impact of disparities in primary and secondary education, there is no doubt that improvements in equity at the tertiary level can offer meaningful and sustainable development potential. For the purpose of this policy research program, equity is defined as providing equal opportunities to access and succeed in tertiary education.

Eliminating inequality is a development imperative for two complementary reasons: fairness and efficiency. John Rawls (1985) proposed justice as fairness as the foundation of a political philosophy for social development in a modern constitutional democracy. “In justice as fairness, social unity is understood by starting with the conception of society as a system of cooperation between free and equal persons” (Rawls, 1985, 249). This study endorses this philosophical argument in examining and understanding how equity in access and persistence in tertiary education promotes justice as fairness.

Thus, in the interest of social justice, every individual must be given an equal chance to partake in tertiary education and its benefits irrespective of income and other individual characteristics including gender, ethnicity, and language. Considering the strong correlation between tertiary education enrollment and family background (McPherson and Schapiro, 2006), concrete initiatives are necessary to provide better opportunities of access and success for students from lower income families and minority groups. Without such purposeful action, the cycle of inequity can only continue.

In addition, there is a strong economic efficiency argument in favor of equity promotion. A talented, low-income student who is denied entry into tertiary education represents a loss of human capital for the individual person and for society as a whole. The lack of opportunities for access and success in tertiary education lead to under-developed human resources and a resulting shortfall in the capacity to capture economic and social benefits (Harbison, 1964; Ramcharan, 2004).

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Objectives and Target Groups

The principal objectives of this study are to
  1. define appropriate measures of inequalities in tertiary education,
  2. document the scope, significance and consequences of disparities in tertiary education opportunities,
  3. expand the understanding of the main determinants of these inequalities, and
  4. 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 study will complement the basic focus on access and equity with an examination of concerns regarding quality and relevance in an expanded tertiary system. It will assess whether worries about increased equity coming at the cost of diminished quality are legitimate, as evidenced through the most recent research and data available.

Definition of Target Groups: Equity for Whom?
The study will consider the following main equity target groups:
  • 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.

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 Inequality in Tertiary Education Systems: Which Metric Should We Use for Measuring and Benchmarking? (0.3 MB)
Beatrice d' Hombres. 2010
World Bank with funding from the Bank Netherlands Partnership Program (BNPP) 
Drawing upon the existing literature on income inequality, the author discusses the quantification of disparities in tertiary education and, more precisely, examines which of the common metrics could be used for benchmarking the inequity dimension of tertiary education systems. It presents an overview of the different summary indices of inequality that would allow for (i) in-depth country specific studies and (ii) large cross-country comparisons.

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