Charting Equity in Higher Education

We know the economic benefit to individuals and to communities of increased levels of Higher Education (HE) participation. We also know that participation in HE has been expanding steadily; we anticipate there will be half a billion students participating in postsecondary education by 2030. But what do existing data tell us about who is accessing HE, and who is currently missing out? Specifically, what do we know about equity in access to high quality HE? Knowing that we are best able to manage what we measure, are institutions, nations, and international organisations capturing HE access data by critical social indicators (such as SES, gender, disability, or geographic remoteness to name but a few)?

Charting Equity in Higher Education: Drawing the Global Access Map, is the newest entry into the Open Ideas at Pearson series of global thought leadership. In researching the piece, which was supported by Pearson and the University of Newcastle (Australia), the authors undertook:

  • a survey of current data collection practices in 50 countries,
  • a review of existing data sources, and
  • deep dive case studies on six key countries (United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, India, and Columbia).

In this short and sharp final report, the authors identify and discuss five key messages, based on their examination of the evidence:

  1. Existing data suggest inequalities in access to HE are pervasive, spanning countries around the world, regardless of size or wealth.
  2. There are significant limitations to the data, with little data being collected beyond gender and SES. Further, different countries and regions have their own dominant concerns as regards equality, grounded in social, economic and political history.
  3. Comparisons across countries are important but difficult because of the various ways social indicators are defined and measured.
  4. Access means more than entry and participation; it also means completion of a high quality programme.
  5. Political will and resources shape data collection.

The authors initiated this work in the hopes of developing a Global Equity Index. Current data, however, made the construction of a rigorous, credible index challenging. To move this area forward, the authors have issued a call to action in the form of a Global Equity Data Charter – a series of actions to be undertaken by institutions, nations, and international organisations to help Higher Education Institutions and governments understand and address inequalities in who benefits from HE.

Charting Equity in Higher Education: Drawing the Global Access Map

Graeme Atherton, Constantino Dumangane, Geoff Whitty