Global participation rates to continue rising, says report

The most important driver of demand for higher education will be the desire of citizens in China and India to reach a middle-class lifestyle, claims scholar

January 1, 2015

Higher education participation rates across the world are set to soar further despite more than doubling over the past two decades, a study shows.

The global gross tertiary enrolment ratio (GTER) went up from 14 per cent in 1992 to 32 per cent in 2012, compared with just a four percentage point rise in the previous 20 years, according to the report by Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education at the UCL Institute of Education.

Some 54 countries had a GTER of more than 50 per cent in 2012 compared with just five countries in 1992, Professor Marginson also observes.

Student numbers in these countries will continue to rise because university is “quasi compulsory” when more than 50 per cent of school leavers progress to further study, he says.

The rise of an aspirational middle class in developing countries, particularly China and India, will also further fuel participation rates, with the global GTER set to exceed 50 per cent by 2025.

That increase in demand will, however, have little to do with state planning or the state of the world economy, argues Professor Marginson in his report, titled The Social Implications of High Participation Higher Education Systems, which was delivered at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s Research Conference, which took place in Newport, South Wales, from 10 to 12 December.

“Once a mass system is in place, popular demand is rising and the costs of non-participation are apparent, [so] the state is less crucial,” he argues.

Potential students will not be put off university by a poor graduate job market as the relation between higher education and labour markets has always been “incoherent”, he adds. Urbanisation will also fuel higher participation rates as this trend “provides favourable socio-economic and cultural conditions for both middle class growth and the provision of educational infrastructures”, Professor Marginson adds.

But the most important driver of demand for higher education will be the desire to reach or maintain a middle-class lifestyle, he says.

“There is no ultimate limit to aspirations for social betterment through higher education – it is not subject to economic scarcity,” he adds.

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