While the numbers with completed tertiary level education are low in Africa, both relative to other countries and in absolute terms, they have been growing very rapidly. Three questions are addressed in this paper. The first is how higher education links to other forms of capital accumulation in a process that leads to economic growth. The second is how higher education links to job outcomes in particular the role of the public sector and self-employment as outcomes for graduates. The third is whether and how an expansion of skilled jobs can create its own demand. The paper draws on both macro and micro evidence to answer those questions which are placed in a long run historical context. It is argued that growth has been more closely linked to investment in physical capital than in education and this may well reflect the fact that education is most valuable when it is linked to technology which requires higher skills. Data from thirty two African countries are used to show that the returns to education, measured both by macro production functions and by micro earning functions, are highest for those with higher levels of education. A contrast is drawn between the role of higher education in providing access to public sector employment and the increasing importance of self-employment in Africa. The paper concludes by asking whether Africa can use its investment in higher skilled labour to effect a service based growth revolution.
RECOUP Working Paper No. 33, Centre for Education and International Development, University of Cambridge, UK, 25 pp.