Private Higher Education Across Asia: Expanding Access, Searching for Quality

Publication | March 2012

This publication provides a timely analysis of policies governing private higher education and presents operational recommendations for development partners in their support to this field in developing countries of Asia and the Pacific.

The expansion of private higher education has become a striking phenomenon worldwide over the last 20 years. The private higher education sector accounts for about 31% of the total global higher education enrollment and about 56% of the total number of higher education institutions (HEIs).

Across Asia, more than 35% of higher education students enroll in the private sector, and almost 60% of the region's HEIs are private. Government promotion of private providers in higher education and the growth of private higher education are much more significant in Asia than in other regions of the world.

While many developing countries in Asia have succeeded in reaching the goals of increasing access to higher education and off-loading the cost of higher education to the private sector, the rapid expansion and increasing heterogeneity among private HEIs tend to create a critical consequence across the region: dubious quality. Although private HEIs typically tend to be diverse in their missions and functions, the majority of them are still small (e.g., average enrollment of 500-700 students), family owned, and nonselective in their admission criteria. Most private HEIs are self-funded, relying heavily on tuition and fees. Therefore, they often need to deal with trade-offs between providing good instructional quality and ensuring return on investment to their owners and shareholders. This consequence has triggered governments' concern about the quality and efficiency of private HEIs in many developing countries.

This publication analyzes the institutional diversity of private higher education in Asia and key policy issues concerning private HEIs. While particular attention is paid to Southeast Asia, many of the issues and perspectives are relevant as well for other parts of developing Asia. The publication comprises operational recommendations for improving private higher education in the region, including:

  • Support the development of national policies and regulations regarding the effective operation of private higher education institutions;
  • Support universities and national higher education systems in their efforts to strengthen quality assurance and accreditation procedures for private higher education institutions;
  • Assist governments and private higher education institutions in exploring alternative funding models for private higher education; and
  • Help create a system that brokers international partnership opportunities for private colleges and universities.

Contents 

  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Dimensions of Private Higher Education
  • Key Policy Issues in Private Higher Education and Governments' Response
  • Recommendations
  • Appendix
  • References