Accepted Paper:

A re-emerging urban bias?: growing regional inequalities in university attainment in six African countries  


Rebecca Simson (Institute for Historical Research and LSE)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that after a period of regional convergence in educational attainment in the early independence era in sub-Saharan Africa, the economic slowdown in the 1980s and university reforms of the 1990s have contributed to a substantial rise in regional inequality in university attainment.

Paper long abstract:

In the first decades of independence university education in Sub-Saharan Africa was a narrow, state-financed preserve that benefitted only the most promising secondary school graduates. In the face of severe resource constraints, growing demand for higher education and under pressure from international donors, most governments liberalized their tertiary education systems in the 1990s. User fees were introduced or increased and private provision expanded alongside a rapid growth in enrolment within the older public universities. Attainment levels increased sharply as privately-funded students entered universities and colleges in large numbers. How has the regional and ethnic composition of university graduates changed over successive cohorts in the face of these changes to the university sector? Using census data to trace the sub-national origins of the university educated populations in six Anglophone African countries over successive birth cohorts, this paper shows that prior to the crisis decades, university student bodies were growing increasingly regionally and ethnically representative of the national population, owing largely to improvements in equity in secondary school access. Since the 1980s, regional and ethnic inequalities have increased again, with a growing attainment gap between people born in the main urban metropolises and the remaining population. This new urban bias is changing the composition of the university educated population, and possibly, by extension, the contours of Africa's future economic elites.

Panel K01 & K02
Spatial inequalities joint panel