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
A conceptual framework was developed in order to structure the review of
literature. Drawing on theories relating TE to human-capital
development, endogenous development, capabilities and institutional
growth, multiple potential pathways to impact were identified. These
pathways lead to improvements in 5 forms of outcome: earnings,
productivity, technological transfer, capabilities and institutions. A
rigorous review of relevant literature was undertaken, drawing on the
principles of framework synthesis. The 99 studies included in the final
analysis were categorised according to the 5 outcomes: earnings (66),
productivity (13), technology transfer (8), capabilities (24) and
institutions (13) (some studies were placed in more than one category).
This report presents the review findings and discusses the implications
for future research. It begins with a discussion of the conceptual
framework used to guide the study, before outlining the methodology used
to select and screen evidence. The study findings are then presented
thematically. In addition to analysis of the synthesised evidence, there
is a supplementary discussion of the barriers to impact. The report also
includes a brief analysis of how external aid to TE in LLMICs has been
used in attempts to increase the impact of the sub-sector. A discussion
of the implications of the study findings concludes the report.
Three main conclusions were derived from the review:
1. 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 TEIs and systems are related to different forms of
outcome and levels of impact.
2. 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.
3. 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.
Oketch, M.; McCowan, T.; Schendel, R. The impact of tertiary education on development. Education rigorous literature review. Department for International Development (DFID), London, UK (2014) 123 pp.