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How effective are different approaches to higher education provision in increasing access, quality and completion for students in developing countries? Does this differ by gender of students?

What do we want to know?

How to effectively increase access to and quality in higher education in developing countries is a highly debated topic. There is no consensus as to what policies or provisions best increase access to higher education, nor is there a firm understanding of how each form or provision or policy impacts the quality of higher education. Empirical evidence on these issues is also lacking. Moreover, while a large body of literature on the implementation of such policies and provisions exists for the developed world, little evidence exists for the developing world, resulting in a comparative dearth of literature that analyses the impact of such policies or provisions for developing nations.

What did we find?

We find positive effects for affirmative action in increasing access for targeted subgroups but also noted that these policies may have unintended negative consequences. Financial programmes and policies such as fee-sharing, dual-track tuition policies and different types of student loans may also positively increase access to higher education while shifting some portion of the costs of higher education from the government to the student. Careful consideration, however, must be taken to formulate the right mix of policies to ensure access for lower income students. The cost of such programmes and their long-term sustainability must also be taken into account.

We find little evidence for the impact of cross-border and transnational provision and TVET (technical and vocational education and training) in increasing access to and the quality of higher education. A few randomised trials of vocational education programmes, however, did show significant gains to lower-income women who participated.

What are the implications?

The scarcity of robust evidence on this topic for developing countries demonstrates the need for improved data. Studies using larger datasets that span multiple institutions are needed to yield more robust and generalisable findings for some types of interventions. More studies that use randomised trials or natural experiments to measure the impact of a particular method of provision or policy for treated versus control groups would also be valuable. In cases where this is not possible, comparative studies could offer some evidence on the impact of policy interventions. Finally, additional evidence on outcomes of interest, such as enrolment, retention, graduation and employment, is needed. Because context matters, however, it is not always possible to identify ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

How did we get these results?

We systematically reviewed research available in the English language on the impact of higher education policies and methods of provision on access, quality and gender issues in developing countries. We also examined the potential differences of these outcomes in terms of gender. We discussed the types of outcomes for which there is evidence and addressed gaps in the evidence base. We selected studies for inclusion based on the relevance of the study method and context, as well as study quality. Given the small number of quantitatively rigorous studies addressing the review question, we also included a number of qualitative and descriptive studies in our review. We synthesised the studies using thematic summaries, using quantitative studies as the basis for our analysis and qualitative studies as supplemental evidence.
The EPPI-Centre reference number for this report is 2105.

Clifford M, Miller T, Stasz C, Goldman C, Sam C, Kumar K (2013) How effective are different approaches to higher education provision in increasing access, quality and completion for students in developing countries? Does this differ by gender of students? A systematic review. RAND Corporation.
ISBN: 978-1-907345-58-6

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