Who benefits from public spending on higher education in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa?

29 Nov 2017

Most countries are far from achieving the new sustainable development target of equal access to higher education by 2030, with those in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa furthest behind. This raises questions about the allocation of public resources across the education system to promote equity. We use data from Demographic and Health Surveys and UNESCO Institute for Statistics in 31 countries in these regions to assess who benefits from public spending on education. Our results reveal an overall pattern of pro-rich education spending, increasing with education level. We find that this pattern can be traced to an allocation of resources to higher education that is disproportionate to the sub-sector’s size: even when higher education spending overall represents a small proportion of total educational expenditure, per-capita expenditure is extremely high. Given that the richest predominantly gain access to higher education, the current spending patterns are likely to reinforce wealth-driven education inequalities.