By the SPHEIR team

20 November 2020 - 16:20

A new British Council report reviewed research published in the last ten years and identified nine development outcomes to assess the impact of tertiary education on development in low- and lower- middle-income countries.

Launched in October 2020, the report The role of tertiary education in development: A rigorous review of the evidence presents the results of a thorough review of the research evidence on the role of tertiary education in development in low- and lower- middle-income countries.

It builds on the 2014 report The impact of tertiary education on development and covers research published between 2010 and February 2020.  The report was commissioned by the British Council and authored by the Centre for Education and International Development at University College London.

The researchers approached the review by setting out four main functions of tertiary education – teaching and learning, innovation, engagement and research – which contribute, directly or indirectly, on their own or in combination, to nine development outcomes: 

  • graduate skill and knowledge 
  • enhanced professional knowledge, understanding and skill among all workers
  • economic growth
  • poverty reduction and development of sustainable livelihoods
  • equitable relationships
  • new knowledge that contributes to technological and social innovation
  • strengthened and transformed institutions
  • strengthened basic education provision
  • strong and engaged civil society 

Economic development outcomes

Most research on the relationship between tertiary education and development focuses on economic outcomes. Michael Peak, senior education adviser at the British Council says: “Evidence suggests that tertiary education supports economic growth for countries and also leads to enhanced earnings for individual graduates. The skills gained and enhanced through tertiary education can contribute to increased productivity in the workforce and tertiary education can play an important role in developing professional capabilities in the countries studied.”

Non-economic development outcomes

In the last decade, there has been some growth in the body of evidence on ‘non-economic’ development outcomes. Tertiary education contributes positively in a number of different ways to enhance quality of life, both for those who participate in it and through the influence of its graduates. 

It also contributes to the development of a strong and engaged civil society – with institutions providing a space for engagement and relationship building, conditions that are key to strengthening and building democracy. 

The review also showed that collaborative relationships and partnerships have a positive impact on strengthening and transforming institutions.

Evidence of some misalignment

In addition to highlighting evidence of how tertiary education does relate to positive pathways to development, this review also reveals cases of where tertiary education may be misaligned to the needs of the local context. For instance, studies which show how the skills acquired by graduates may not be of high priority to local industry and employers; and evidence of how pre-service teacher training can be misaligned to local needs and context. 

Building research capacity

One important aspect covered by the report is that the relationship between research – one of the four tertiary education functions identified in the report – and development is under-documented. Michael Peak commented: “This could be because the research sector is small in these countries, but also because the research is out of step with various local requirements. This suggests the importance of building research capacity and nurturing the research ecology.”

The report, while noting some gaps, provides evidence of the roles tertiary education plays towards positively transforming various aspects of life and society. You can read the report here: