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publication September 26, 2021

Steering Tertiary Education: Toward Resilient Systems that Deliver for All

World Bank Group


The new Steering Tertiary Education, Toward Resilient Systems that Deliver for All report reinforces the imperative that every country invest thoughtfully and strategically in diversified, well-articulated, and inclusive tertiary education systems by also examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this key education sector and identifying policies that can promote a resilient recovery. The report encourages countries, education policymakers, and stakeholders to adopt five principles to STEER tertiary systems and institutions toward greater relevance and impact.

  • Smart investments and reforms in tertiary education systems are at the heart of the big transformations required throughout economies and societies.
  • Tertiary education is vital for the development of human capital and innovation.
  • Effective tertiary education sectors ensure that countries have well-trained doctors, nurses, teachers, managers, engineers, and technicians who are the frontline actors to support effective education, health service delivery, and growing economies.
  • To guide our policy advisory and operational support to countries, the new report “Steering Tertiary Education, Toward Resilient Systems that Deliver for All” proposes a framework to respond to the present and future needs in tertiary education.

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Photo Credit: MD Duran | UNSPLASH 

  • The new report reinforces the imperative that every country invest thoughtfully and strategically in diversified, well-articulated, and inclusive tertiary education systems by also examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this key education sector and identifying policies that can promote a resilient recovery.
  • The report encourages countries, education policymakers, and stakeholders to adopt five principles to STEER tertiary systems and institutions toward greater relevance and impact:
  1. Building diversified Systems – developing future-oriented strategies that center on a strong contribution of tertiary education not only to growth and competitiveness but also to social cohesion and human development; and positioning tertiary education in a lifelong learning context with flexible pathways allowing for access to different types of institutions and greater adaptability to the labor market needs and opportunities.
  2. Investing smartly in new Technologies – harnessing the power of technology for tertiary education institutions in order to profit from digitalization, through an improvement of teaching and research capacity, innovation and agility in service delivery, as well as the building of a digital ecosystem which, overall, make tertiary education systems more resilient.
  3. Ensuring Equity in access and financing – acknowledging that inequity is a form of injustice and acting to ensure that equity and inclusion in access and success are a driving ethos for an effective and relevant tertiary education system.
  4. Achieving Efficiency in resource utilization – improving information systems by utilizing evidence and sound information to strengthen oversight and management; devising and deploying governance, financing, and quality assurance instruments that are designed to deliver more value for investments in tertiary education and weather the current and potential future crises.
  5. Acquiring Resilience in service delivery so that learning continues – acknowledging the need for resilience planning, by taking stock of the successes and failures of the COVID-19 response at the systems and institutional levels; utilizing adaptive governance frameworks to embed immediate and strategic resilience interventions as well as leveraging digital technologies.
  • Building back better tertiary education systems requires a holistic view of the tertiary ecosystem, removing the barriers that lead to isolated siloes of universities, technical institutions, colleges, and tertiary technical and vocational education institutions.
  • The benefits in efficiently investing in tertiary education include higher employment and earnings, productivity growth and innovation, greater social stability, more effective public sector bureaucracies, increased civic engagement, and better health outcomes.
  • To ensure the closing of the equity gaps in tertiary education, countries need to have deliberate and sound policies to concomitantly enable access to disadvantaged groups such as merit-based scholarships, grants, and student loan programs as well as remedial interventions to ensure readiness for postsecondary studies.
  • Governments need to address the expansion of higher education low quality providers -particularly among private and online providers – by creating and implementing more robust quality assurance (QA) instruments.
  • Digital technology and capabilities are essential to more resilient tertiary education systems.
  • Investments in concert with policies to foster job creation and reforms in each of the pillars are crucial to support the development of agile, equitable, efficient, and dynamic tertiary education systems and institutions.