Just Another Level? Comparing Quantitative Patterns of Global Expansion of School and Higher Education Attainment

Research paper by Bilal Barakat, Robin Shields

Indexed on: 25 Jul '19Published on: 18 Apr '19Published in: Demography


The expansion of higher education enrollment and attainment is a key uncertainty in the education profile of future populations. Many studies have examined cross-national determinants of higher education expansion as well the understanding of expansion through the relationship between higher education and the labor market. Early work established a typology for levels of enrollment, but recent empirical studies on the global growth of higher education attainment are scarce, and available projections resort to imposing ad hoc limits on future expansion. This study addresses this gap by comparing the trajectories of higher education expansion with those experienced at other levels on their course to universal or near-universal access. We demonstrate that a population-level model of expansion toward universal access fits higher education as well as lower levels of education (i.e., primary and secondary education). In other words, that there is no prima facie evidence of a ceiling in higher education enrollment that would indicate saturation significantly below 100 % participation. Claims that are premised on such a ceiling should therefore consider empirical evidence for this assumption in their analysis. These findings contribute to discussions on higher education expansion as well as studies of higher education and the labor market.