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Political explanations of higher education expansion in developing countries: (deciding) who gets what, where, when, and how (much)?

Publication date: 2001-01
Pages: 18 -
Publisher: State University of New York at Albany; Albany, NY


Bastiaens, Jo


The following essay explores in what ways political variables have influenced the remarkable expansion of higher education in much of the developing world. The overarching theme that I intend to develop from the literature is that this expansion can be explained and understood on the basis of political considerations, more so than -or at least as much as- by economic factors. We will illustrate our main arguments in the context of two particular countries, Indonesia and the People's Republic of China. However, reference will also be made to a number of other country settings, the specifics of which have been derived predominantly from the assigned literature. In this paper, the term expansion will generally refer to the quantitative upsurge of higher education institutions (both in numbers and in size) and enrollments that have marked the development of higher education systems during the post-independence era in so many countries1. The purpose of this paper is not to document the extent or nature of this worldwide expansion, as indeed comparative data are now widely available. Nonetheless, a number of general observations deserve our attention before we start to concern ourselves with the explanations of this phenomenon. First, the transition 'from Elite to Mass higher education' (Trow, 1975), which became a worldwide trend since World War II, occurred with particular speed and stamina in the so-called Third World. Often building on small and elitist institutions, the speed of expansion of higher education in many developing countries far exceeded that in the industrialized nations, to the extent that some have observed that the new nations have 'skipped stages' in the development of their higher education institutions (Rudolph & Rudolph, 1972: 11).