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Equity in Tertiary Education Findings of OECD’s Thematic Review of Tertiary Education Presentation by Paulo Santiago, Directorate for Education, OECD 17 th EAN Annual Conference Crossing Borders: Diversity in Higher Education Berlin , 1 July 2008

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equity in tertiary education

Equity in Tertiary Education

Findings of OECD’s Thematic Review of Tertiary Education

Presentation by Paulo Santiago, Directorate for Education, OECD

17th EAN Annual Conference

Crossing Borders: Diversity in Higher Education

Berlin, 1 July 2008

the oecd thematic review of tertiary education
The OECD Thematic Review of Tertiary Education


Recommend policies that ensure that capabilities of tertiary education contribute to countries’ economic and social goals

A collaborative, cross-national process to:

  • Synthesise research-based evidence on the impact of tertiary education policies and disseminate this knowledge among participating countries
  • Identify innovative and successful policy initiatives and practices
  • Facilitate exchanges of lessons and experiences among countries
  • Identify policy options and the conditions under which they are successfully implemented

Defining equity in tertiary education


Equitable tertiary systems are those that ensure that access to, participation in and outcomes of tertiary education are based only on individuals’ innate ability and study effort. They ensure that educational potential at tertiary level is not the result of personal and social circumstances, including of factors such as socio-economic status, gender, ethnic origin, immigrant status, place of residence, age, or disability.

Equity of what? Access versus outcomes

Equity for whom? Range of dimensions

Family socio-economic background, gender, immigrants, minorities, place of residence, age, disability.


Contextual developments affecting equity

  • Inequities in tertiary education are, to a great extent, dictated by inequities in preceding levels of education
  • Equity issues related to the inability to acquire the necessary qualifications are likely to be more important than affordability at the time of attendance.
  • - Expansion of tertiary education has had implications for equity
  • Should enhance the ability of disadvantaged students to attend – at least in absolute terms; Accommodates larger proportions of all social strata to attend; When given level of education expands, increasing inequality should be expected at the next education level given increased heterogeneity.
  • - Diversification of tertiary education systems raises a number of new equity challenges
  • Change of the nature of inequities: lower status institutions; vocationally-oriented institutions; discriminatory fee policies.
  • - Demographic developments intensify the need to place a focus on equity issues in some countries
  • e.g. immigration; growth of cultural minorities.
  • - Countries tackle equity issues with different cultural traditions
  • Legitimised categories which frame the way social diversity is defined and equity is assessed.

Trends in equity in tertiary education

  • Little information to assess the extent of inequities in tertiary education
  • There is strong evidence that access to and participation in tertiary education is associated with the socio-economic background of students (see slide)
  • SES also impacts on the aspirations for tertiary studies of secondary students (see slide)

Educational status of students’fathers

  • Proportion of HE students’ fathers with HE and proportion of men of corresponding age group as students’ fathers (40-to-60-year-olds) in the overall population with HE
  • Source: Eurostudent 2005, as published in OECD Education at a Glance, 2007.

Socio-economic status impacts on the aspirations for tertiary studies of secondary students

  • Aspirations for tertiary studies of 15-year-olds by quartile of the student’s economic, social and cultural status PISA index, 2003
  • Source: OECD PISA Database, 2003

Trends in equity in tertiary education

  • More disadvantaged students are overrepresented among those students who are not eligible to access tertiary education
  • When gaining access to tertiary education, more disadvantaged students enrol in greater proportions in lower status institutions and more vocationally-oriented institutions
  • - Female participation in tertiary education has improved significantly in recent decades (see next slide) but the gender gap persists in post-graduate programmes

Female participation in tertiary education has improved significantly in recent decades

  • Difference between the percentage of females and the percentage of males who have attained at least tertiary education, by age group, 2005
  • Source: OECD Education at a Glance, 2007.

Trends in equity in tertiary education

  • Females remain underrepresented in some areas such as technology and engineering and overrepresented in other areas such as teaching and nursing
  • In some countries TE degrees of women seem to be undervalued by the labour market
  • Some countries face challenges in making tertiary education accessible to students with an immigrant background
  • The inclusion of ethnical minorities poses serious challenges in some countries

Trends in equity in tertiary education

  • There has been an improvement in the geographical accessibility to tertiary education
  • There are increasing opportunities in tertiary education for more mature students but their participation remains limited in some countries
  • Students with disabilities remain underrepresented in tertiary education
  • - In most countries there is little emphasis on equity of outcomes

Factors affecting equity in tertiary education

  • Funding-related factors
  • - Three types of financial constraints: “price constraint”; “liquidity constraint” and “debt aversion constraint”
  • - Ability for systems to channel public funds to student support systems
  • - Funding approach affects the extent to which one benefits from tertiary education
  • Family background
    • - The impact of family background on schooling performance is well established
    • - Family background is also a strong influence on tertiary education participation
    • - Parental income might be more of an influence through its long-term effect on cognitive and non-cognitive ability rather than through short-term credit constraints
  • School factors
    • - The organisation of schooling has an impact on opportunities for tertiary education study
    • - Uneven distribution of teacher quality and school resources influences opportunities to access tertiary education
    • - Other school factors may hinder opportunities to reach tertiary education
  • Peer effects
  • Articulation between secondary and tertiary education

Factors affecting equity in tertiary education

  • Organisation of tertiary education
  • - The ability of the tertiary education system to accommodate demand
  • - Available programmes which fit the interests of a wide range of students
  • - Financial incentives for institutions to advance equity objectives
  • - Availability of tertiary education in remote areas
  • - Information about the benefits (and costs) of tertiary education available to disadvantaged students
  • - Transfers between different types of institutions within tertiary systems
  • - Targeted support within institutions during the course of studies

Factors affecting equity in tertiary education

  • Selection procedures
  • - Merit is never pure
  • - National-level entrance examinations have some positive aspects
  • - Institutional say in student selection is desirable but involves some complexity
  • - Alternative entry arrangements are potentially instrumental in assisting equity objectives in tertiary education
  • - Broader selection criteria might reduce inequalities of access
  • Factors impacting on the participation of students with disabilities
  • - Approaches to policies targeted at students with disabilities have great impact on participation levels
  • - Specially-designed institutional strategies are an important vehicle to ensure the success of students with disabilities in tertiary education

Policy priorities

Assess extent and origin of equity issues:

Systematic collection of data.

Making tertiary education more equitable requires policy to intervene much earlier

 Career guidance and counselling services at the school level are instrumental in improving equity of access

 Provide opportunities for tertiary education study from any track in upper secondary school

 Strengthen the integration of planning, policy and analysis between secondary and tertiary education systems

 Diversify the supply of tertiary education to accommodate a more diverse set of learners


Policy priorities

  • The principle of cost-sharing
  • Use cost-sharing between the State and students as the principle to shape the funding of tertiary education, especially if limited public funding either:
      • rations the number of students;
      • jeopardizes levels of spending per student; or
      • restricts financial support for disadvantaged groups.
  • Student Support
  • Back the overall funding approach with a comprehensive student support system. Aim for a universal student support system with two major components:
      • A loan system with income-contingent repayments;
      • A means-tested grants scheme.
      • Student aid entitlements to cover living costs

Policy priorities

Consider alternative types of provision to account for the cultural diversity of the population

Development of institutions with diverse cultural foundations

Improve the access to tertiary education in remote areas by expanding distance learning and regional learning centres

Diversify criteria for admission and give a say to institutions in entrance procedures

Consider positive discrimination policies for particular groups whose prior educational disadvantage is well identified

Consider alternative ways of acquiring eligibility for tertiary education


Policy priorities

Improve transfers between different types of institutions within tertiary education

Provide incentives for tertiary education institutions to widen participation and provide extra support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds

Special financial incentive for institutions to attract less represented groups; positive discrimination; studies progression support (e.g. tutoring services); adapting the learning environment to account for the diversity of the student body.

Encourage institutions to be more responsive to the needs of adult learners


Policy priorities

Sustain efforts to improve gender parity at all levels of tertiary education and address gender stereotyping in subject choice

Grant special provisions for students with disabilities

- Targeted support: accessibility to the buildings; resources for institutions to provide special support; special entrance procedures; targeted grant schemes.

- Account for special rhythms.

- Avoid stigmatisation.

- Life course perspective.

- Distance learning opportunities.

Place more emphasis on equity of outcomes


Thank you

Final Report

Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society

Preliminary version, launched at International Conference in April 2008, available from:


For further information and other documentation: