• Despite rapid growth in higher education around the world, many challenges remain, including in expanding and promoting equitable access, improving learning achievement, fostering educational quality for relevance, strengthening knowledge generation and technology transfer, and encouraging desired values, behaviors, and attitudes.

    Higher education refers to all post-secondary education, including but not limited to universities. In recent years, a diverse and growing set of public and private tertiary institutions in every country—colleges, technical training institutes, community colleges, nursing schools, research laboratories, centers of excellence, distance learning centers, and many more—form a network of institutions that prepare students for application of knowledge at an advanced level. 

    World Bank Group (WBG) research shows that globally, the rates of return for graduates of tertiary education are the highest in the entire educational system—an average 17 percent increase in earnings.

    Good quality institutions, diversified options, and relevant, equitable and efficient tertiary education and research are key to ending extreme poverty and advancing economic growth. 

    Last Updated: Dec 21, 2015

  • Since 1963, the World Bank Group has been working on higher education to encourage not only better quality outcomes worldwide, but also to promote more efficient and accountable higher education institutions. It prioritizes programs and projects that help strengthen higher education by:

    • Increasing institutional diversification; 
    • Improving the quality and relevance of higher education; 
    • Strengthening science and technology research and development capacity; 
    • Promoting greater equity mechanisms to assist disadvantaged students; 
    • Establishing sustainable financing systems to encourage responsiveness and flexibility; 
    • Strengthening management capacities; and
    • Enhancing and expanding information and communication technologies (ICT) capacity to reduce the digital divide.

    Last Updated: Dec 21, 2015

  • A sample of recent initiatives supported by World Bank Group lending and knowledge programs in higher education includes:

    Sub-Saharan Africa

    The World Bank Group is financing 19 university-based Centers of Excellence in seven countries in West and Central Africa. Competitively selected centers receive funding for advanced specialized programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related disciplines, as well as in agriculture and health. A second phase of the project is being designed for East Africa.

    Middle East and North Africa

    Using university governance score cards, the World Bank Group, together with the Center for Mediterranean Integration and in collaboration with other international partners is helping tertiary education institutions in seven countries to benchmark their governance, management and quality assurance practices. A dynamic network of more than 100 tertiary education institutions has been established, fostering collective learning, sharing of best practices, and concrete action plans for improvement.

    Sri Lanka

    The World Bank Group's Higher Education for the XXI Century Project provides direct support to higher education institutions to help develop strategic plans to enhance the quality of teaching, research and innovation. One of the 58 funded initiatives includes the Science and Technology Cell established at the University of Colombo, which serves as an innovative channel for connection between companies and the university in Chemistry, Mathematics, Nuclear Sciences, Physics, Plant Sciences, Statistics and Zoology. 


    A World Bank Group team worked with the Government of Latvia and different stakeholders in the tertiary education system to design a new funding structure and mechanisms to support tertiary education provision. As a result of the project, new laws have been enacted and government entities in charge of tertiary education have been realigned.

    Last Updated: Dec 21, 2015

  • The World Bank Group works in coordination with several academic institutions and multinational organizations across the world. These include the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the British Council, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the International Association of Universities (IAU), and other, develop research initiatives and other mutually beneficial endeavors. In addition, OECD, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), and UNESCO collect and share complementary data on international higher education. 

    Last Updated: Dec 21, 2015

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