Governments across the world are struggling to keep pace with the rapidly rising demand of higher education as many families cannot afford it, shows a UNESCO paper released on Thursday.
The new policy paper from the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) at UNESCO reveals that the number of university level students doubled to 207 million between 2000 and 2014.
The paper sets out a series of measures to make higher education more equitable and affordable, including ensuring that student loan repayments do not exceed 15 percent of their monthly incomes. Anything more threatens to leave the disadvantaged behind.
Six specific recommendations are given to policymakers to ease the situation for all and help ensure both good policy and effective implementation.
These are keeping an eye on the target and make sure those who need help the most are getting it, guarantee equity and affordability in regulatory frameworks, step up monitoring and establish national agencies to ensure equal opportunities, use different admissions criteria to respond to different individuals’ needs, establish an agency to coordinate different forms of student aid, such as loans and grants; and limiting student loan repayments to 15 percent of their annual income.
Equitable and affordable higher education is essential to achieving the SDGs.The demand for higher education will continue to rise and, as it does, governments must respond by ensuring that all groups can access affordable, quality programmes, said the policy paper.
“By creating and transmitting vital knowledge, skills and core values, higher education is a cornerstone for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO was quoted as saying in a message UNB received from the UNESCO headquarters.
Analysing global trends, the new paper shows that only 1 percent of the poorest have spent more than four years in higher education, compared to 20 percent of the richest.
Disadvantaged groups are also missing out. In South Africa, around a sixth of Africans and Coloureds attended higher education in 2013, compared to over a half of whites. Similarly, in Mexico, less than 1 percent of the indigenous population can attend higher education.
In China, youths from rural areas are seven times less likely to attend university than students from urban areas.
Access to higher education has expanded most rapidly in wealthier countries: Only 8 percent of young adults are enrolled on average in the poorest countries, compared to 74 percent in the richest countries.
The greatest gender disparities are found among the poorest countries as well. Women made up only 30 percent of bachelor students in low-income countries in 2014.
“In certain countries with deeply rooted social inequities, affirmative action through quota or bonus systems may be necessary to expand access to underrepresented groups, even if these mechanisms are controversial,” says Suzanne Grant Lewis, director of the IIEP.
UNESCO, the only UN organisation with responsibility for higher education, advises governments to use a combination of policies aimed at helping the disadvantaged, such as low tuition fees, need-based scholarships and loans repayments adjusted according to income, to help families manage the costs.