Many newly independent African countries in the 1960s inherited regional and ethnic inequalities in formal educational attainment. These new states united subnational regions of diverse ethnic and religious communities. The regions differed in their exposure to missionary activity, the main vector in the spread of formal Western education in the world. colonial era.
Inequalities in access to education increased as one moved up the educational ladder. Access to university education was extremely limited and highly skewed.
Since access to higher education determined who would go on to hold some of the most important positions in society, politicians cared a great deal about how higher education spread. Given this context, how did regional inequalities in university access evolve after independence?
Although several recent works have highlighted the considerable social inequalities in access to higher education in african countries today, there are few works that analyze how and why such inequalities have changed over time.
in a recent article Therefore, I traced the regional origins of university graduates since the 1960s in seven African countries: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. I constructed a regional inequality measure for each country and examined some of the factors that influenced this inequality trend.
The results show that regional inequality decreased in the first two decades of independence. However, starting in the 1980s, regional inequality remained stagnant or grew in this group of countries. Inequality has grown mainly because major urban metropolises have been taking the lead, leading to a growing urban bias in university access.
I used recent census data that contains information about where people were born and what level of education they attained. I grouped these people by their district or province of birth, depending on the administrative structure of the country. In Ghana, for example, people were grouped into the country’s ten regions, while in Kenya they were grouped into the country’s current 47 counties.
By grouping people by age group and assuming that most people who attend college do so in their early 20s, I was able to track how the regional distribution of college education changed over time.
University education was slow to develop in these former British colonies. The proportion of the population attending university in the late colonial era was extremely low.
Around the time of independence, Kenya had approximately 400 university students (1961), while Tanzania and Zambia had 300 students each (1963). The distribution of these few educational opportunities was regionally skewed. College attendance tended to be higher among those who grew up in major cities and in regions with higher economic output (particularly cash crops and mining).
This historical legacy has been lasting. On average, regions with above-average college attainment in the 1960s continue to have higher college attainment rates today.
Trends in access
But the picture is not altogether bleak. In the first decades of independence, some of the worst performing regions within each country caught up. The regional inequality trend for each of the seven countries shows that inequality declined in most countries in the 1960s and 1970s. In this period the number of university students was growing quite fast. Scholarships for students were generous, and governments made some efforts to ensure regional balance.
In the 1980s, many African countries experienced financial difficulties. Governments struggled to finance their largely public university systems. During this period, the rate of university expansion slowed. Access to university became increasingly competitive. This ended the period of regional convergence in university enrollment. Regional inequalities in university access began to grow again.
My analysis found that those best placed to enter the highly competitive university system were increasingly those students born in major cities where incomes were higher and parents more educated. Regional inequality measures excluding capital cities show that there was little or no growth in regional inequality since the 1980s. This shows that most of the increase in inequality was driven by the capital city region .
In the 1990s, many African countries again reformed their university systems by introducing or increasing fees. They also allowed more private universities to be established. This increased the number of students who could be educated and led to the rapid increase in university enrollment. But from the available data, it appears that regional inequalities in college access have remained high or have increased further.
concentrated in the cities
There are many reasons for this continuing growth in inequality in access. The most important factor is one that is difficult for policymakers to address. Census data shows that the focus countries have a significant rate of rural-urban migration. These immigrants are a small part of university students. As a result, university graduates are increasingly concentrated in cities. College students tend to be the children of highly educated people; in turn, they are more likely to obtain a higher education. This perpetuates the concentration of the highly skilled.
The slightly better news is that because cities tend to be ethnically mixed, the growing urban bias does not appear to have resulted in a sharp rise in ethnic inequality in college education. In three countries (Ghana, Malawi and Uganda) censuses also asked respondents to indicate their ethnic origin. Using these self-reported ethnicities, I measured ethnic inequality by cohort. I found much less growth in inequality at the ethnic level compared to a regional basis.
Since migration is an important factor in this regional differentiation, this trend is likely to continue unless there is more economic development and job creation outside the main urban centers. This implies that the face of Africa’s high achievers is changing. From a narrow educational elite of the 1970s, where most college-educated people had rural or small-town roots, the more educated ranks are increasingly dominated by people born and raised in major multi-ethnic urban centers.