by Thomas Owen Eisemon and Jamil Salmi
The state’s role in promoting equity and national integration in higher education is an extension of its responsibility for providing universal basic education and expanding secondary education opportunities. This paper examines the effects of policies governments have adopted to increase equity through manipulation of institutional characteristics of higher education systems as well as through changing patterns of recruitment. Experiences of successful and unsuccessful policy implementation are presented. It is shown that developing countries have achieved impressive success in expanding access to higher education for formerly disadvantaged groups especially through expansion of teacher and technical training, open universities and other forms of distance education. Many countries manipulate admissions criteria to correct inequalities but such policies often involve important quality and efficiency trade-offs. Direct grants to meritorious but needy students is the most effective instrument for increasing their participation in higher education, public or private.
The state’s role in promoting equity and national integration in higher education is an extension of its responsibility for providing universal basic education and expanding secondary education opportunities. This is done in a variety of ways: through open admission policies, prohibitions against discrimination in admissions, preferential admissions policies, subsidies provided to disadvantaged students to undertake higher studies, as well as through policies affecting the establishment, recognition and location of higher education institutions. Generally, governments tend to be directive in matters related to equity and national integration by adopting policies designed to produce geographic dispersion of higher education institutions or to ensure ethnic and linguistic cosmopolitanism in student and staff recruitment to national public institutions.
However, as most developing countries are facing tightening budgetary constraints, the traditional role of the state as principal if not exclusive financier and provider of higher education is increasingly being challenged. In many countries, the government’s relationship with higher education institutions is becoming more supervisory than interventionist, reflecting a move away from centralized management practices and a heavier reliance on incentives. This, in turn, may affect the ability of governments to sustain their commitment to equity concerns.
Subsequent sections of this paper examine policies that developing country governments have adopted to increase equity through manipulation of institutional characteristics of higher education systems as well as through changing patterns of recruitment. Experiences of successful and unsuccessful policy implementation are presented and lessons drawn that may have general applicability. The implications of the changing role of the state are also considered.
The paper argues that developing countries have achieved impressive success in expanding access to higher education for formerly disadvantaged groups especially through the expansion of teacher training, technical institutions, open universities and other forms of distance education. Many countries manipulate admissions criteria to correct inequalities but such policies may involve important quality and efficiency trade-offs. Direct grants to meritorious but needy students is the most effective instrument for increasing their participation in higher education, public or private.
STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE EQUITY
Most countries have addressed equity concerns through quantitative expansion of their higher education systems, placing particular importance on ensuring a fairer geographic distribution of institutions. This provides tangible evidence of a government’s commitment to increasing educational opportunities. Teacher training colleges, the most common higher education institution and the most localized in their recruitment and mission, are usually the most evenly distributed. Technical training institutions and especially universities are more costly to establish, have broader missions and are more cosmopolitan in composition. Their location is often a matter of considerable political contention with many implications for both cost and performance.
In Egypt, which has one of the largest higher education systems in the developing world, the government has relied on two-year technical institutes to continue providing access to higher education to all secondary graduates while protecting the already-bloated universities. The technical institutes have expanded rapidly during the last fifteen years and now enroll about 40 percent of all secondary school graduates. But, due to the lack of adequate financial, human, and material resources, most of these institutes provide poor quality education and are no more than “academic parking lots” for surplus students.
Satisfying political demands for establishing a local public university or college often leads to the proliferation of many small institutions whose staffing and instructional infrastructure is insufficient to adequately support the range of programs they offer. Rationalization may be required for academic and economic reasons but implementation is difficult as the experience of recent reforms in China (Weifang, 1991), Nigeria (Bako, 1990) and many other countries attests.
Distance education is less costly than institutional dispersion and is often effective in increasing access for some groups that are usually poorly represented in university enrollments. Distance education has been most successfully developed in Asia. In Thailand, for example, the two open universities, Ramkhambaeng and Sukhotai Thammathirat, founded in 1970 and 1978 respectively, have been the government’s principal instrument for expanding access to the country’s geographically well distributed but highly socially selective public university system. Until very recently, there were few private colleges and universities. Both open universities were established as self-financing government institutions. About a quarter (22%) of the students enrolled in these institutions come from rural areas, the poorest social strata accounting for two thirds (66%) of the country’s population (Stepanich et al., 1991). This is still much higher than the representation of rural students in public (11%) or in private universities and colleges (10%), but it is well below their representation in low status teacher training institutions, most of which are located in the countryside (52%). The open universities have been much more important in increasing opportunities for students from poor family circumstances in urban areas (21% of enrollment, almost twice their representation in the general population, 12%). However, the main beneficiaries of the open universities in Thailand have been students from urban commercial families (34% of enrollment compared to 10% of the population).
In India, somewhat less than half (41%) of students enrolled in open universities or in distance education programs operated by regular universities are women, compared to an enrollment of 32% in formal university programs (Swamy, 1992, p. 13-20). The participation of the disadvantaged scheduled caste and tribal students, and those from rural areas is well below their representation in the formal higher education system or in the general population. A high proportion of these students register for commerce. In India in contrast to Thailand, the opportunities conferred by open universities and distance education programs are captured mainly by unemployed university students!
Private higher education, Student loans, Direct grants
Many countries, especially in Asia and Latin America, have relied on private institutions to increase higher education opportunities. But the equity effects of expanding private higher education are less clear. In Chile, the government reforms in the 1980s, which transformed the university system into a mass system dominated by private institutions, strengthened the “elitization” of higher education (Briones, 1992). In many countries in Latin America (Winkler, 1990), particularly in Salvador, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil (Wolff, Albrecht & Silba, 1992), expansion of private higher education produces “a double injustice.” “The most privileged move from top secondary schools into free public higher education, while less privileged students pay for the inferior education provided in the private sector” (Levy 1991, p. 4). The case for using private higher education to increase equity, he continues, “rests on several ifs: if government expenditures on higher education diminishes its expenditures on other levels; if public universities implement tuition, if loans offset costs.”
The introduction of loans to students admitted to private or public institutions has been recommended as a device to facilitate cost-recovery with significant equity benefits (World Bank, 1986, p. 4; World Bank, 1988, p. 80 & 94). The loans may be targeted—on the basis of need—or made available to all students as has been done in Ghana and Kenya, irrespective of family circumstances. In most Sub-Saharan African countries and perhaps in many other parts of the developing world, kin groups rather than families mobilize resources for education, making targeting of loans and student support very difficult and providing much scope for abuse. Similarly, most African countries lack comprehensive, progressive and efficient systems of public finance, presenting practical difficulties for loan recovery and exacerbating the adverse equity effects. In Kenya which has had a student loan scheme since 1973, for instance, the default rate in 1987 was 81%! A high proportion of students repaying loans, presumably, are school teachers whose incomes can be easily attached. The international experience to date with student loan schemes has been quite negative. Because of heavily subsidized interest rates, high default rates, and high administrative costs, the financial performance of these schemes has been so disappointing that it would have been cheaper, in many cases, to substitute loans with outright grants (Albrecht & Ziderman, 1991).
More important, at least in so far as equity implications are concerned, is the fact that loan schemes are being introduced in countries like Chile, or are being revitalized in countries like Ghana and Kenya, at a time when governments are increasing the direct costs of attending university. Thus, whatever might be the merits of introducing a loan scheme to encourage more students from needy families to avail themselves of opportunities for higher education, under circumstances of more cost-recovery, student loans can not be regarded as a policy instrument that is likely to increase equity in participation in higher education.
An increase in direct grants (scholarships) to needy students of high academic potential is apt to be more effective. Indeed in Chile, it is the competitive national scholarships scheme that has increased the enrollment of students from the most educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds in the country’s best public universities, while loans and expansion of private higher education have expanded opportunities for students from more advantaged families, generally.
The administration of grant schemes is best done at the institutional level. In many countries, ministries of education or higher education do not have the managerial capacity or the political independence to administer scholarships in the most efficient and equitable manner. Universities are in a better position to administer such schemes, as illustrated by the successful experience of some universities, both public and private, which have set up well-targeted financial aid programs. For example, when the University of the Philippines raised tuition fees in the late 1980s, it also provided a special fund to support qualified students from low-income families. The Catholic University of Venezuela designed and implemented a differential financial aid scheme which has been used as a model by several other Latin American private universities.
However, differential subsidies targeted to meritorious students from under-represented groups, and not available to others, causes resentment. In Singapore, subsidies to the few Malay students admitted to the country’s highly selective higher education institutions have been criticized on the grounds that the subsidies are not available to students from educationally advantaged but poor Chinese families. The government will divest itself of the problem by setting up an educational trust for the Malay community and suspending the subsidy program (Gopinathan, 1992, p. 26-27).
Table 1. Hidden Subsidies and Government Losses on Selected Student Loan Programs
Average Loan Recovery Ratio (% of Loan)
Excluding Default Year Including Default
Country and Administrative Cost and Administrative Cost Year
Venezuela (FGMA) ………77 ………..8a …………1991
Kenya ……………………..30 ……….. 8a …………1989
Brazil I …………………….19 …………2 …………..1983
Jamaica I …………………26 …………8 …………..1987
Colombia I ……………….27 …………13 ………….1978
Chile ……………………….52 ………..18 ………….1989
Honduras …………………49 ………..27 …………..1991
Indonesia …………………43 ………..29 …………..1985
Brazil II ……………………38 ………..29 ……………1989
Sweden I …………………39 ………..30 …………….1988
Jamaica II ………………..44 ……….30 ………………1988
Denmark ………………….48 ……….38 ………………1986
Japan ……………………..50 ………..40 ………………1987
USA (GSL) ………………..71 ………..47 ……………..1986
Finland …………………….65 ………..48 ………………1986
Norway …………………….67 ………..52 ……………..1986
Colombia II ……………….71 …………53 ……………..1985
Hong Kong ……………….57 …………53 ………………1985
UK …………………………74 …………59 ……………….1989
Quebec …………………..69 …………63 ……………….1989
Barbados …………………87 …………67 ……………….1988
INCOME CONTINGENT LOANS
Australia ………………….52 …………43 ……………….1990
Sweden II ………………..72 …………67 ……………….1990
Source: Albrecht & Ziderman, 1992a
The most direct way to increase the representation in higher education of typically under-represented groups is to manipulate admissions through relaxation of admissions requirements, awarding bonus points on entry examinations, through admissions quotas, or some combination of these devices. Developing country experience with preferential admissions schemes is rich and varied. India’s efforts to increase the representation of scheduled caste, Muslim and tribal students has had the most impact on the composition of higher education enrollments and since preferential admissions policies are linked to policies affecting public sector employment, certainly the most controversial.
India’s constitution mandates the national and state governments to alleviate the condition of the most disadvantaged segments of the country’s population through positive discrimination. Centrally funded universities and institutions having the status of universities are assigned quotas for scheduled caste, tribal and Muslim students, and at least until the early 1970s were obliged to fill them. (This has been relaxed for some elite national institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology; Chanana, 1992, p. 17). Most state governments have enacted similar policies affecting locally funded institutions, often substantially broadening their application to less disadvantaged but demographically and politically influential groups especially in central and southern India. Policies of preferential discrimination in education and employment have contributed significantly to India’s political turmoil in recent years. More positively, they have greatly increased educational opportunities for the most socially disadvantaged groups (Chanana, 1992, p. 14).
Nevertheless, the objects of India’s reserved seat scheme remain economically and educationally disadvantaged (Majumdar, 1992, p. 38-44). Galanter concludes “in the delicate task of balancing the merit principle with other interests, a flat percentage limitation on the extent of reservations is of less use than it might appear.” Nor, he adds, can “the real impact of a scheme on the chances of others and on the merit principle…be known from the percentage of places reserved” (Galanter, 1984, p. 417).
In Malaysia, the government adopted twenty-five years ago admission policies to tertiary education institutions which discriminated positively in favor of the Malay population (Bumiputras) and against the Chinese and Indians. A recent analysis of the income distribution impact of these policies has shown that, even though the advantage of the Chinese population segment has been reduced, reverse discrimination has penalized the poor within the Bumiputra population (Tzannatos, 1991). The prime beneficiaries appear to have been those Malays who were already better off before the introduction of positive discrimination. These findings suggest that following a narrow definition of ethnic equality and concentrating resources on expensive upper-secondary and higher education institutions for the Bumiputras can be counter-productive. More equalizing effects would have been achieved by investing these resources in the provision of better basic education for the entire population.
Less ambitious schemes have been tried in other developing countries. In the early 1980s, the public University of the Philippines decided to relax the rigorous admission criteria for students from poor and rural families on the grounds that the University’s entrance requirements, a composite of secondary school grades and tests of academic ability, unfairly measured the potential of these students. Students admitted under the scheme were provided with financial support and also remedial instruction if this was necessary for their course of study. Students’ performance was closely monitored. The results indicated that the application of the existing admissions criteria actually over-estimated the future academic performance of “culturally” disadvantaged students with borderline scores, i.e. relaxation of requirements increased student failure despite the additional assistance the students received. The experience has been reported to illustrate that “a trade-off is usually involved in programs of preferential treatment” (Klitgaard, 1992, p. 12). In Indonesia where quotas are employed to limit ethnic Chinese representation in elite universities, it is estimated that the inefficiency produced results in an increase of 12% in the marginal cost per graduate due to poorer academic performance and greater likelihood of repetition and drop out (Klitgaard, 1986).
In many developing countries, however, admission to public universities is very selective and based on student achievement in national examinations that minimize qualitative variations at the secondary level. Minor manipulations of admissions requirements are unlikely to seriously effect the quality of entrants. Requirements may be manipulated to alter patterns of participation at either the higher or secondary level, or at both levels as in Rwanda where regional and ethnic origin are taken into account in allocating the limited opportunities for post-primary education.
In Kenya admission to teacher training colleges is on the basis of a national examination with candidates ranked and selected by district to ensure “national representation.” The intention is to raise the representation of students from rural and remote districts. A similar scheme is used to select students for entry into the elite provincial and extra-provincial public secondary schools that send a disproportionate share of their graduates to the public universities which have so far successfully resisted manipulation of their entry requirements. Any negative impact of these measures on the quality of higher education is apt to be much less than the deleterious effects of the rapid expansion of enrollments since the introduction of the 8-4-4 system in 1985 (Eisemon, 1988; Eisemon & Davis, 1991).
In Uganda, bonus points have been introduced to increase the representation of women at Makerere University. Since 1990, 1.5 points have been added to the A level examination scores of female applications to Makerere University. Admissions are determined by a complex weighing of students’ examination scores. Minimum points are established for each degree program. These ranged in 1990/91 from 9.8 points for admission to Education to study the teaching of biology to 45 points for Pharmacy and 44.6 points for Law. The minimum for the general arts degree was 13.6 points. The proportion of females admitted to the University increased from 23% in 1989/90 to 30% in 1990/91 when the bonus points scheme took effect. Yet prior to the introduction of this scheme, the proportion of female applications with qualifications to enter Makerere who were actually admitted reached the level for male applicants (World Bank, 1992, p. 32). Females are less likely to enroll in faculties and professional programs requiring passes in science subjects at A levels. Females accounted for 40% of the total intake into arts programs compared to 18% into science programs in 1990/91. A higher proportion of applicants gain entry to science programs, but they take more difficult subjects at A levels. The poor representation of females in science based programs reflects the smaller proportion of females eligible for entry. Manipulation of the present bonus scheme to increase female representation in these programs would probably have little effect in light of the high proportion of qualified students already being admitted. The more serious problem is the low proportion of females who are taking advanced instruction in science subjects at the secondary level.
Reforms responding to equity concerns address complex issues. Implementation of strategies to increase access to higher education through institutional proliferation, especially of teacher and technical training institutions, are the least politically controversial and in some countries, the most effective for increasing the participation of educationally and economically disadvantaged groups. However, they increase the costs to the state. The deteriorating financial situation experienced by many developing countries will make it increasingly difficult for governments to sustain such policies. In many countries, a choice will be made, de facto, between continuing to expand access or maintaining minimum standards in terms of quality of teaching and research. One manifestation of this evolution, particularly visible in the former French colonies of North and Sub-Saharan Africa, is the division of higher education into a dual system: on the one hand, resource- starved, mainstream universities and other institutions for “the masses”, and on the other hand a small network of good-quality programs (“grandes écoles” and similar institutions, professional programs with restricted access) for the better qualified students.
The equity benefits of private higher education, fee charging open universities and student loans are more difficult to assess. In many circumstances, they seem to increase higher education participation for educationally and economically more advantaged groups which are not necessarily elite groups. The poor and most disadvantaged benefit more from selective state support allocated on the basis of merit.
Manipulation of meritocratic admissions criteria is fraught with difficulty. There may be important efficiency trade-offs where there are large qualitative variations in secondary education and/or where preferential treatment is deliberately designed more to penalize particular groups than to benefit others. In the final analysis, investment in the provision of good quality primary and lower secondary education for all children may be the best way to reduce inequalities at the higher education level.
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