The Impact of Tertiary Education on Development: A Rigorous Literature Review

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After a long period in which the international development community has placed emphasis on primary education, there is now renewed interest in tertiary education (TE). However, the extent and nature of the impact of TE on development remains unclear. This rigorous review seeks to address this question in the context of low and lower middle income countries (LLMICs).

Three main conclusions are derived from the review:

  • There is a significant lack of research into the impact of TE on development. Studies are needed, in particular, to show how inputs and interventions to tertiary education institutions (TEIs) and systems are related to different forms of outcome and levels of impact.
  • The returns to TE have been underestimated. There is evidence to suggest that TE may provide greater impact on economic growth than lower levels of education. However, all levels of education are interdependent and must be addressed holistically.
  • TE provides a range of broader, measurable benefits to graduates, relating to health, gender equality and democracy, among other areas. In addition, it contributes to the strengthening of institutions, and the forming of professionals in key areas, such as education and healthcare. The diverse functions of the university, in addition to its direct impact on economic growth, should be acknowledged and supported.

The findings of this rigorous review are summarised in an evidence brief by Oketch, McCowan and Schendel (2013).

This review is part of a series of DFID education rigorous literature reviews. Other reviews in this series include:



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