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Target 4.3 – Technical, vocational, tertiary and adult education

Tertiary students in Melbourne, Australia, protest against proposed cuts to higher education funding.

Credit: GEM Report/Corey Oakley

Target 4.3 – Technical, vocational, tertiary and adult education

Key Messages

  • In 2015, 2% of lower secondary and 20% of upper secondary school students were enrolled in technical and vocational education.
  • In 2015, 213 million students, or 36% of the age group, were enrolled in tertiary education.
  • More women than men graduate from tertiary education but fewer women than men obtain science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees; in Chile, Ghana and Switzerland, women account for less than one-quarter of these degrees.
  • Very few adults who have not completed primary education go back to school. In Mozambique, just 20% of adults had completed primary but only 0.5% were enrolled in formal education. However, in some upper middle income countries, such as Brazil and Thailand, adult enrolment is above 4%.
  • Capturing the diverse provision of education and training requires administering direct questions to adults.
  • However, surveys ask the relevant questions in different ways, making it hard to monitor the global indicator.
  • Rapid enrolment increases, diversification of provision and governance structures, and growth of student mobility have increased demand for quality assurance in higher education.
  • Despite the growing sophistication of quality assurance mechanisms in tertiary education, it is not clear whether they improve teaching and learning.
  • Many laws encourage access to higher education for minorities and disadvantaged groups but few address affordability.
  • Fee-free policies alone do not deliver equitable access to tertiary education. A combination of low tuition fees, scholarships and loans based on income is needed.

The global indicator for target 4.3 is the youth and adult participation rate in formal and non-formal education and training. Labour force surveys hold potential as a data source. For example, the European Union Labour Force Survey, which covers participation in both formal and non-formal education and training, shows that women and younger people are more likely to participate. For cross-national comparability and for
completeness, labour force survey design elsewhere in the world needs to develop a common module addressing both formal and non-formal education.

Over 60 million secondary students worldwide were enrolled in technical and vocational education in 2015 – about 10% of all secondary students – mostly at the upper secondary level. Most regions had seen little change in this rate since 2000, although participation rose in the Caucasus and Central Asia and fell in the Pacific. Technical and vocational education remained male-dominated, with girls accounting for 43% of enrolment.

In 2015, 213 million students were enrolled in tertiary education. Since 2000, the gross enrolment ratio has risen by almost 30 percentage points in upper middle income countries, from 17% to 46%. However, enrolment growth in the Caucasus and Central Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa almost stagnated. The share of private enrolment has been increasing. Women have outpaced men in tertiary enrolment, with sub-Saharan Africa the only region where fewer women than men enrol. Still, women lag behind men in completing science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees.

In 2015, over 60 million secondary students worldwide were enrolled in technical and vocational education, and 213 million enrolled in tertiary education

Household surveys can be used to demonstrate disparity in post-secondary education participation and attainment. New estimates for this report show the attendance rate for 18- to 22-year-olds taking off among the richest fifth of the population in low and middle income countries but remaining close to zero among the poorest fifth. In El Salvador, 51% of the richest fifth and less than 2% of the poorest attended any form of post-secondary education while in Mongolia, the respective shares were 67% and 3%, suggesting an urgent need for many middle income countries to introduce policies to make post-secondary education accessible (Figure 10).

A large share of the adult population has not completed primary school in low and middle income countries. Even so, they are not likely to return to primary school to complete their basic education. In Kenya, only one in two adults has completed primary school, but the share of adults in primary school enrolment is only 3%. These statistics do not capture details on continuing education outside the formal system.

Figure 10: The poorest have hardly any post-secondary education opportunities in low and middle income countries

See previous year’s report on Target 4.3