UNESCO reveals higher education policy gaps

Governments around the world are not keeping pace with the growing demand for higher education. A policy paper from the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) at UNESCO shows that the number of university level students doubled to 207 million between 2000 and 2014.

Governments are struggling to keep pace with rapidly rising demand and large disparities in access, with a large cost of higher education often falling to families, many of whom cannot afford it.

The paper, Six ways to ensure higher education leaves no one behind, sets out a series of measures to make higher education more equitable and affordable, including to ensure that student loan repayments do not exceed 15% of a student’s monthly income. Anything more threatens to leave the disadvantaged behind.

“By creating and transmitting vital knowledge, skills and core values, higher education is a cornerstone for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “Demand for higher education is going to continue rising.

Governments must respond by introducing a range of new policies that will ensure expansion doesn’t leave the marginalised behind, and that access is based on merit, not privilege.”

Analysing global trends, the paper also shows that only 1% of the poorest students have spent more than four years in higher education, compared to 20% of the richest.

“The last thing we want is for higher education to be the ball and chain around students’ ankles,” said Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report. “Coping with dramatic student expansion is not easy, but there are policy solutions governments can put into place to stop the bill falling to households.”

Six specific recommendations are given to policy makers to make higher education equitable and affordable for all:

  • Keep an eye on the target: Make sure those who need help the most are getting it.
  • Put it into law: Guarantee equity and affordability in regulatory frameworks.
  • Step up monitoring: Establish national agencies to ensure equal opportunities.
  • Vary admissions criteria: Use different admissions criteria to respond to different individuals’ needs.
  • Provide varied student aid: Establish an agency to coordinate different forms of student aid, such as loans and grants.
  • Limit student loan repayments to <15% of their annual income.

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