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  • Walid S Maani

    Walid S Maani asked in Applied Sciences 4th Dec '12:

    With the major budgetary constraints posed on universities by dwindling government financial support, coupled with increased demand on higher education. Would the Access and Equity notion be maintained? And would the standard be guaranteed? Are there any mechanisms to address this issue especially in developing countries, where properly trained human resources are the major pillar in starting a sustainable development?

    Oum Kalthoum Ben Hassine replied 28th Jan '13:

    Higher education : quality, access and equity

    The measures taken by states to deal with increased demand and a reduction of funding in higher education have led to a decline in quality of education and to a socially inequitable access. This requires the taking into account of other mechanisms.

    Generally speaking, higher education has, at any time, been considered a public good insofar as it contributes to the well-being of society by educating the citizens, improving human capital, encouraging civic participation and favoring economic development.

    The vital role that higher education plays in the sociocultural and economic development has thus engendered, in recent decades (late twentieth century and early twenty-first century), an unprecedented demand in this field. So, most of the countries, particularly those where the access to the higher education is guaranteed by states, experienced a massification of staff in universities. As an example, in Tunisia the student staff was multiplied by a coefficient of 3,5 between 1997 and 2005 (Ben Sedrine, on 2009) and by 7 in twenty years (Melonio and Mezouaghi, on 2010). However, at the world level, the proportion of the cohort registered in higher education increased from 19 to 26% between 2000 and 2007, the largest increase being due to middle-income countries and high income. Indeed, in low-income countries, the proportion of enrollment in higher education increased only slightly, from 5 to 7% between 2000 and 2007 (Altbach, Reisberg & Rumbley, 2009).

    In a context where higher education is increasingly seen as a powerful engine of economic development, this multiplication of the number of students has constitued a huge challenge for higher education systems, especially those accustomed to ensure a free or widely subsidized higher education. In front of the massification, various measures were then taken to answer this greater demand.

    However, most systems of higher education confined themselves, at first, to try to answer this demand by developing infrastructure and by widening the teaching staff. So, in Tunisia, the capacity extension of existing universities was realized by the development academic centers in different regions of the country which allowed a wide geographic coverage of public universities on the whole territory and by the increase of the number of newly recruited teachers. In most of these new centers, teacher staff is composed mainly of young recruits without experience, which has engendered in territorial disparities. However, the fiscal receipts of States could no longer support the pace of spending which have experienced a rapidly increase in this field. Thus, the almost exclusive financing by states could not be increased in the proportions required by this high demand especially in the context of the current economic crisis which accentuates the budgetary constraints and contributes to the drastic reduction of the state financing of the higher education.

    Faced with these financial constraints, many countries have increased the number of students of the classes in the universities, but also the load of teachers (In Tunisia, the weekly load of a professor passed from half past three to half past five). They have reduced the opening of the more expensive posts of statutory teachers full-time and have increased the less expensive posts of contract teachers and of temporary contract teachers at part-time. Yet, if all of these measures helped maintain an access to higher education expanded significantly, it was accompanied by a deterioration in the quality of the welcome at the university, of the training and of the qualifications, and a deteriorating employability of graduates. Indeed, in many countries, nearly half of graduates are unemployed one year after graduation (Melonio & Mezouaghi, 2010). In addition, with this expanded access, the gender inequalities have subsided or even reversed in favor of women, as is the case in Tunisia where female students represented 60.8% of total students enrolled during the academic year 2010-2011 (Ben Hassine, 2012). This however does not reflect the total disappearance of inequalities because women are discriminated against in the labor market. Thus, the rate of unemployment among Tunisian women graduates of the University was situated in 2008 at 51.6% against 38.3% for men and 45.7% for both sexes combined. So, the measures taken by states have not guaranteed nor a good quality training, nor a high level of qualifications, nor the employability of graduates. But other measures were enacted, as tuition fees that have been introduced, particularly in countries where higher education was before free or nearly free. Furthermore, grants and scholarships have been reduced, in particular in countries in transition and this without any improvement of the conditions of learning and training, what did not prevent an overall decline in the quality of the education coupled with a socially inequitable access for the poor students who no longer have the opportunity to take in charge their tuition and living expenses. It is worth mentioning that several countries have maintained a limited public sector, elitist and selective. Many developed countries have also developed a higher competitive activity of higher education with an insufficient number of places in the universities which fight to obtain  public or private funds and to have a good ranking. In these countries, the admission of students became difficult in the best classified establishments.

    Yet, competition that can constitute a factor of excellence in the academic world, risks to contribute to a decline from the perspective of the academic community, of its mission and of its traditional values ​​(Altbach, Reisberg & Rumbley, 2009) .

    So, in all these countries, the cost resulting from the increase of the participation is for the main part postponed on the parents and the students with the encouragement of the private sector (schools, universities and private accommodation homes).

    Overall, these measures do not guarantee the maintain of an access to higher education free and equitable socially and in regards of gender. Indeed, a discriminatory access can show itself when a private university system  develops. Furthermore, in numerous cases, this development produces an effect of eviction of the female in the socially vulnerable families, due to family arbitrations in favour of the male for the financing of higher education in private universities (Melonio and Mezouaghi, on 2010). As for the quality of the system of higher education, the wealth of nations and of universities plays a decisive role in its determination, what disadvantages considerably developing countries. Yet, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the admission in the higher education should be based on merit, capacities, efforts, perseverance and determination of the applicants.

    Because of the vital role that higher education plays in the cultural and socio-economic development of individuals, communities and nations, but also in building the future of the countries, in the formation of new skills and the acquisition of new knowledge, it is advisable to develop an education that ensures equity of access and quality standards to create a critical mass of skilled and educated people. Indeed, no country can ensure a genuine endogenous and sustainable development without a quality higher education. So, developing countries and least developed countries, in particular, cannot hope to reduce the gap that separates them from the industrially developed countries without this education capable to ensure knowledge sharing and international cooperation in the production of knowledge and in its applications.

    For this, in front of the massive and rapid increase of the demand of higher education, it is necessary to develop an access policy that favors now an approach based on the merit of each, man or woman, rich or poor and which advocates special financial supports and adequate educational solutions for disadvantaged populations in order to gain access to higher education and pursue their studies.

    In addition, the quality assurance in the higher education being from now on a priority for numerous countries, the higher education has to prepare graduates endowed with new qualifications, with a broad knowledge base  and with a range of skills that provide access to a more complex and interdependent world.

    In this frame, it is necessary to ensure a judicious selection of academic staff (academic selection at the entrance), watch over its constant improvement and establish mechanisms for quality control. A thorough reform of the programs must be also implemented. It is also advisable to realize a diversification of education training, to establish professional courses, to develop high added-value sectors and to put in place mechanisms for mobility between higher education institutions and the world of work and between different university centers within the countries. Quality also requires that higher education must be characterized by its international dimension. This internationalization of high education will be accomplished by the exchange of knowledge, the creation of interactive networking, mobility of teachers and students between countries and the cooperation in international research projects. The new information technologies offer, in this respect, an important tool that, due to their impact on the acquisition of knowledge and know-how.

    Furthermore, the development of a high-quality private higher education could be ensured in a complementary way to public education with a broader student access to bank financing allowing to integrate the disadvantaged populations.

    Associational life being a factor of development, it will be sensible to  to use the potential of  graduates to revitalize associative life in the regions by setting up, for this purpose, projects of raising awareness and training. In this context, programs with clear objectives and concrete results for the raising awareness, the training and the coaching of these skills are to be set up and financed.

    But what is the importance of  these challenges in the countries of the Arab Spring, where there has been a proliferation of koranic schools which took the place, in the school curriculum, of the nursery schools, a questioning of women's rights and a refusal of modernity, innovation and renovation ?!!

    Altbach P. G., Reisberg L. & Rumbley L. E., 2009. - Evolutions de l’enseignement supérieur au niveau mondial : vers une révolution du monde universitaire ; Résumé.

    Rapport d'orientation pour la Conférence mondiale de l'UNESCO sur l'enseignement supérieur 2009, Publié par l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture (UNESCO) ; Paris, 1 – 25.

    Ben Hassine O. K., 2012. – The feminine scientific potential in Tunisia : a mine of skills for the development. Sharing Knowledge Conference in Mediterranean (7), La Marsa (Tunisie).

    Ben Sedrine S., 2009. - La Tunisie, in Boutros Labaki (dir.), Enseignement supérieur et marché du travail dans le monde arabe, Beyrouth, Presses de l'Ifpo (Contemporain publications, no 26). [En ligne], mis en ligne le 06 novembre 2009, Consulté le 17 janvier 2013. URL :

    Melonio T. & Mezouaghi M., 2010. - Le financement de l’enseignement supérieur en Méditerranée : Cas de l’Égypte, du Liban et de la Tunisie. Publications AFD ; consulté  le 03 janvier 2013 sur :

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