Beyond the ABCs: Higher Education and Developing Countries

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This paper analyzes a relatively neglected facet of the complex debate regarding human capital – higher (or tertiary) education. It addresses five broad questions examining higher education in developing countries. One, are the economic effects of higher education on developing countries different from those in industrialized countries, with its links with labor markets of lesser importance than its impact on institutional development? Two, how does the impact of higher education depend on the type of education and its beneficiaries? Three, with the state unable to meet growing demand pressures, what should be the proper role of the state to ensure not just quality but also equity and access? Four, how should countries rethink the provision of higher education in an “open economy” from seeking education abroad or encouraging foreign providers into the country or simply linking domestic institutions with foreign quality assurance mechanisms? And five, do new technologies offer developing countries a new paradigm to expand the provision of high quality but low cost higher education? The aim is not to provide categorical answers to these complex questions, but rather highlight the analytical and empirical lacuna with regard to each of these questions.

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