International Review of Education

, Volume 60, Issue 3, pp 361–377 | Cite as

The equity imperative in tertiary education: Promoting fairness and efficiency



While the share of the tertiary education age cohort (19–25) which is being given the opportunity to study has increased worldwide over the past two decades, this does not in fact translate into reduced inequality. For many young people, especially in the developing world, major obstacles such as disparities in terms of gender, minority population membership or disabilities as well as academic and financial barriers are still standing in their way. The authors of this article propose a conceptual framework to analyse equity issues in tertiary education and document the scope, significance and consequences of disparities in tertiary education opportunities. They throw some light on the main determinants of these inequalities and offer suggestions about effective equity promotion policies directed towards widening participation and improving the chances of success of underprivileged youths in order to create societies which uphold humanistic values.


Tertiary education Inequality Equity of access Gender parity 


L’impératif de l’équité dans l’enseignement supérieur : promouvoir l’égalité et l’efficacité – Si la proportion de la population immatriculée dans l’enseignement supérieur (groupe d’âge 19–25 ans), qui bénéficie de la possibilité de suivre des études, a augmenté à l’échelle mondiale au cours des deux dernières décennies, cette avancée ne se traduit pas dans les faits par une réduction des inégalités. De nombreux jeunes gens, notamment dans le monde en développement, se heurtent à des obstacles majeurs tels que les disparités dues au sexe, à l’appartenance à un groupe minoritaire ou à un handicap, ainsi qu’à des barrières d’ordre scolaire et financier. Les auteurs présentent un cadre conceptuel permettant d’analyser les questions d’équité dans l’enseignement supérieur et documentent l’ampleur, la portée et les conséquences des inégalités dans le secteur. Ils éclairent quelque peu les principaux déterminants de ces disparités et proposent des politiques de promotion efficace de l’équité, qui visent à élargir la participation et à améliorer les chances de réussite des jeunes défavorisés, dans la perspective de créer des sociétés porteuses de valeurs humanistes.



  1. Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the tool box: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor’s degree attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  2. Barros, R. P. de., Chanduvi, J. S., Ferreira, F. H. G., & Molinas Vega, J. R. (2009). Measuring inequality of opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  3. Cowell, F. A. (1995). Measuring inequality (2nd ed.). Wheatsheaf: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  4. Dworkin, R. (1981). What is equality? Part 2: Equality of resources. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 10(4), 283–345.Google Scholar
  5. Eggins, H. (2010). Access and equity: Comparative perspectives. In Global perspectives on higher education (Vol. 20). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. EMS (Emerging Markets Symposium). (2012). Tertiary education in emerging markets. Findings and recommendations. Accessed 11 November 2013 from
  7. Finnie, R., Laporte, C., & Lascelles, E. (2004). Family background and access to post-secondary education: What happened over the 1990s? Analytical Studies Research Paper 11F0019, No. 226. Business and Labour Market Analysis Division. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.Google Scholar
  8. Gerald, D., & Haycock, K. (2006). Engines of inequality: Diminishing equity in the nation’s premier public universities. Washington, DC: The Education Trust.Google Scholar
  9. González Rubio, A., & Macdonald, K. (2011). Disparities affecting minorities by country: ethnicity and language. Background study written for the preparation of J. Salmi & R-R. M. Bassett (forthcoming). Opportunities for all? The equity challenge in tertiary education. Washington DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  10. Junor, S., & Usher, A. (2004). The price of knowledge 2004: Access and student finance in Canada. Montreal: Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.Google Scholar
  11. Kachondham, P. (2010). Disabled students services (DSS) in higher education in Thailand. NTUT Education of Disabilities, 8. Accessed 12 April 2011 from
  12. Kane, T. (1994). College entry by blacks since 1970: The role of college costs, family background, and the returns to education. The Journal of Political Economy, 102(5), 878–911.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. McPherson, M. S., & Schapiro, M. O. (2006). US higher education finance. In E. Hanushek & F. Welsh (Eds.), Handbook of the economics of education. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  14. Ministerio del Desarrollo Social. (2009). Household surveys (Encuestas CASEN; National Socioeconomic Characterisation Survey). Accessed 19 November 2013 from
  15. Myrdal, G. (1970). The challenge of world poverty. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  16. Nybroten, K. A. (2003). Family makes a difference: The influence of family background on college enrollment, persistence and degree attainment. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. Accessed 20 August 2012 from
  17. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). (2006, 27–28 June). Higher education: quality, equity, and efficiency. Meeting of OECD education ministers, Athens, Greece.Google Scholar
  18. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). (2008). Achieving equity. Tertiary education for the knowledge society (Vol. 2). OECD Thematic review of tertiary education: Synthesis report. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  19. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Rawls, J. (1985). Justice as fairness: Political not metaphysical. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 14(3), 223–251.Google Scholar
  21. Roemer, J. (1998). Equality of opportunity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Rowan-Kenyon, H., Savitz-Romer, M., & Swan, A. K. (2010a). Persistence and retention in tertiary education. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  23. Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., Swan, A. K., Deutsch, N., & Gansneder, B. M. (2010b). Predictors of academic success for working non-traditional students. In L. Perna (Ed.), Understanding the meaning of “work” for today’s undergraduates (pp. 93–112). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. Salmi, J., & Bassett, R. M. (forthcoming). Opportunities for all? The equity challenge in tertiary education. Washington DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  25. Savitz-Romer, M., Rowan-Kenyon, H., Weilundemo, M., & Swan, A. K. (2010). Educational pathways to equity: A review of global outreach and bridge practices and policies that promote successful participation in tertiary education. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  26. Sen, A. (1985). Commodities and capabilities. Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  27. Shenk, D. (2010). The genius in all of us: Why everything you’ve been told about genetics, talent, and IQ is wrong. London: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  28. Shenk, D. (2011). Is there a genius in all of us? Accessed 29 January 2011 from
  29. Tawney, R. H. (2000 [1952]). Equality in historical perspective. In D. Johnston (Ed.), Equality (pp. 90–106). Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  30. UIS (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). (2009). Higher education database. Accessed 19 November 2013 from
  31. UNESCO-IESALC (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean). (2008). Trends in higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Caracas: IESALC.Google Scholar
  32. Usher, A. (2005). A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Toronto: Educational Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  33. World Bank. (2006). World development report 2006: Equity and development. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. World Bank. (2009). Financing tertiary education in Africa. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  35. World Bank. (2013). World DataBank: Education statistics – all indicators. Accessed 13 November 2013 from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BogotaColombia
  2. 2.The World BankLondonUK

Personalised recommendations