While higher education participation rates are growing worldwide, and while women are closing the participation gap, students from low-income families and from ethnic minority and indigenous groups continue to lag behind, according to a new policy paper from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
An analysis across 76 countries found that 20 percent of the richest 25- to 29-year-olds — and less than 1 percent of the poorest — have completed at least four years of higher education. In the Philippines, 52 percent of the richest individuals, and 1 percent of the poorest, had completed four years of higher education. In Mongolia, 72 percent of the richest individuals, and 3 percent of the poorest, had completed four years of higher education. There are also big disparities by household wealth in certain Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, Macedonia and Moldova.
“Looking at the average hides a lot of important information about who that average is made up of,” said Taya Owens, a research officer with UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report. “Even if you look at Ukraine or the United Kingdom, which are two countries that have high average attainment rates, there’s a pretty substantial disparity between the richest and the poorest.”
The policy paper makes a series of recommendations for increasing equity and access, including through a combination of low tuition fees, need-based scholarships and income-based loans with repayments capped at less than 15 percent of monthly income, and through the development of affirmative action policies “that put equity front and center in the admissions process.”