Access Without Equity? Finding a Better Balance in Higher Education in Asia

Publication | April 2012

In Asia, especially among most of the countries dealt with in this study, the demand for higher education is on an unstoppable trajectory in the near and middle term. This is already reflected in the current levels of participation. The demographic projections of the 17-25 year-old age cohort for the next 20 years are showing growth in the lower double digits. For governments planning to respond to this growth, policy options have to balance among costs, sustainability, and ensuring fair and equitable access to higher education. Confounding these challenges further are equally critical ones like standards, quality, and responsible and orderly growth. In pursuing these, creative ways of delivering, financing, and managing higher education by both public and private sector sponsorship should be explored. For positioning higher education to provide fair access provisions to all, and especially for students from those segments of society that have remained underrepresented even at present, developing Asia must seriously consider mainstreaming widening participation and strengthening inclusiveness in higher education, incentivizing higher education institutions for that effort, and offering additional academic support for those from marginalized communities.

This is particularly timely in the Asia and Pacific region, where, unfortunately, rapid economic growth has been accompanied by widening disparities and inequality. Greater investment and better targeted reforms that support inclusive education systems not only yield more productive and inclusive economies, but will also help to better meet important goals in social development and other crucial development areas.

Policies and institutions that are inclusive provide opportunities for each individual to achieve his or her full learning potential and acquire relevant knowledge and skills to effectively serve as members of society and to contribute to inclusive economic growth. Thus, inclusiveness and equitable access throughout the education system, including higher education, are key factors for establishing a broad and diversified human resource base. This is essential for advancing inclusive economic growth, leading to greater recognition that educating excluded groups and raising their achievement is a development imperative for countries to progress up the economic ladder.

This publication, Access Without Equity? Finding a Better Balance in Higher Education in Asia, makes a strong case, through a comprehensive analysis, for shifting the development agenda from access to widening participation and for strengthening inclusiveness in higher education in our region. In this context, it also provides a timely update on the latest developments in the use and potential of information and communications technologies in the delivery of higher education. The publication presents the following policy recommendations for stakeholders of higher education:

  • Find a more effective balance between continued expansion of access and renewed attention to improving instructional quality;
  • Extend access in ways that promote better equity;
  • Support the development, use, and evaluation of information and communications technology in the delivery of university instruction; and
  • Support government and university efforts to develop funding models that support wider access to high-quality higher education.

In addition, it suggests concrete operational strategies for development partners, such as the Asian Development Bank, concerning their role in supporting developing countries in this field in the region.


  • Introduction
  • From Secondary School to Higher Education: Matriculation Outputs
  • Participation in Higher Education
  • Private Provision of Higher Education
  • The Application of ICTs in the Delivery of Higher Education
  • Widening Participation and Strengthening Inclusiveness in Higher Education
  • Policy Considerations
  • Recommendations
  • References
  • Higher Education in Dynamic Asia: Study Reports