Project
- About

The International Comparative Higher Education Finance and Accessibility Project has been a program of research, publication, information dissemination and networking examining the worldwide shift of higher education costs from governments and taxpayers to parents and students. The Project began in 2000 under the leadership of D. Bruce Johnstone, former Chancellor of the State University of New York System and Distinguished Service Professor of Higher and Comparative Education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The Project, financed through 2007 by the Ford Foundation, was managed by Pamela N. Marcucci and operated through the Graduate School of Education's Center for Comparative and Global Studies in Education. From 2000 through roughly 2007, the ICHEFA Project:

  • Constructed this ICHEFA Website, which remains a worldwide source of theoretical and descriptive information on international comparative tuition and financial assistance policies, with more than--theoretical papers and some--descriptive country studies on higher education finance and cost-sharing.
  • Organized international conferences on higher education finance in: Dar es Salaam 2002, Prague 2003, Moscow 2004, Wuhan 2005, Nairobi 2005 and 2006, and Arusha 2008 (the last named being a six country workshop on how to make student loans "work" in East Africa, with ministry representation from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Ethiopia).
  • Supported World Bank consulting projects on higher education finance in Morocco, Romania, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Brought visiting scholars from China, Japan, Czech Republic, and Germany, and advanced graduate students for summer study from Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Vanderbilt, and the State University of New York at Albany.
  • Brought to the University at Buffalo international students seeking Master's and Ph.D. degrees, completing 17 under the direction of Professor Johnstone.
  • Produced a significant text in international comparative higher education tuition and financial assistance policies: Johnstone and Marcucci, Financing Higher Education Worldwide: Who Pays? Who Should Pay, published by the Johns Hopkins Press, 2010.

Although Johnstone remains active in scholarship, international lecturing, and occasional teaching, he became emeritus in 2007 and no longer accepts new graduate students. Marcucci joined Higher Education Strategy Associates in Toronto (headed by Alex Usher), which does much of the same kind of work, including international research on cost-sharing. Thus project activity has slowed considerably since 2008. The ICHEFA Website, however, has added a number of recent (2010-2012) papers, and has begun updating the so-called country studies under the continuing direction of Johnstone and Dr. Namsook Kim, the Assistant Director of the University at Buffalo's Center for Comparative and Global Studies in Education.

Most importantly, the finance of Higher Education remains an increasingly critical issue in nearly all countries as the trajectory of rapidly increasing college and university instructional costs and revenue needs, driven by the combination of surging per-student costs and enrollments, continues to outpace the capacity of governments to fund and to shift more and more of the costs to parents and students--in turn jeopardizing accessibility and creating in some countries worrisome levels of student indebtedness. These trends can be seen in:

  • Sharply increasing tuition fees in both public and private universities in the US and elsewhere--and increasing college and university financial austerity where fees cannot rise.
  • Rising costs of student living, forcing students to attend only part-time, delay completion, and live at home; even where tuition fees alone may not yet be a significant deterrent to enrollment.
  • The advent of tuition fees along with the diminution or even the phasing out of student grants and the increased interest in student loan schemes throughout Europe.
  • The introduction of tuition fees in China and other nations still holding to some elements of Marxist-Socialist ideology.
  • The heavy reliance on private, tuition-supported colleges and universities in much of Asia (Japan, Korea, the Philippines) and Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Mexico).
  • The emergence of private, fee-supported colleges and universities in Russia, China and other nations that until only recently forbade both tuitions fees and non-state universities and that formerly guaranteed all students a free higher education.
  • The emergence of dual-track tuition fee policies in public universities throughout Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe, and much of Africa, whereby a certain number of free university places are awarded by the government, generally on the basis of examinations, and other places are available to qualified, but lower scoring, students on a tuition fee paying basis.
  • The continuing, often bitter and sometimes violent, resistance to tuition fees in many countries--in spite of the oftentimes acute financial austerity besetting the country's universities, the presence of financial assistance, the fact that tuition fees are generally far less of a financial barrier than living expenses, and the equity arguments in favor of modest tuition fees.
  • A widespread failure of student grants to keep up with increasing student expenses (both tuition fees and living costs) and surging enrollments, exacerbated by a shift of grants to loans as the principal form of student assistance.

Cost-sharing is supported by the economic concepts of equity and efficiency as well as by the apparent inability of public revenues in almost all countries to keep up with burgeoning enrollments and rising per-student costs. However, it continues to be strongly resisted in countries with traditions of free or only nominal tuition fees (sometimes constitutionally enshrined), some of which also have limited mechanisms of means-tested financial assistance or of student loans to maintain accessibility in the face of these rising costs. The policy dilemma of nations struggling with the need to maintain and extend higher educational accessibility under conditions of increasing competition for scarce public resources can be summarized in the following six propositions.

  1. Most countries continue to experience dramatic increases in the public and private demand for higher education as higher education comes to be recognized as the engine of economic growth and of individual opportunity and prosperity. (This is especially true of those countries still trying to change from "elite" to "mass" and "universal" tertiary-level participation.)
  2. Higher education nearly everywhere--particularly in developing, or low-income, countries and in those countries in transition from command to market-driven economies--is suffering from a severe and worsening austerity. This austerity is a function of: (a) surging enrollments; (b) high and annually increasing instructional costs, along with a resistance to many measures that might increase the efficiency or productivity of universities; and (c) declining public (taxpayer-based) funding. The resistance to increased public revenue, in turn, is a function both of the difficulty of increasing taxation in ways that are progressive, cost-effective and not injurious to economic growth, as well as competition from other, oftentimes more socially and politically compelling, public needs.
  3. In light of the above two propositions, national systems and institutions nearly everywhere in the world are turning to some "cost sharing," or "revenue supplementation," from students and parents in the form of tuition fees and more nearly full-cost recovery from the provision of room, board, and other non-instructional services.
  4. In addition to the sheer need for revenue, tuition fees--even in otherwise "public" institutions--are supported by concepts of equity (the notion that those who benefit should at least share in the costs), efficiency (the notion that the payment of some tuition will make students and families more discerning consumers, and the universities more cost-conscious providers), and responsiveness (the idea that the need to supplement public revenue with tuition fees, gifts, and grants will make universities more responsive to individual and societal needs).
  5. Thus, some increased costs borne by parents and students are probably both inevitable and economically rational. Indeed, the supplementation of higher educational revenues by non-governmental sources--primarily the family--is one of the major recommendations from the World Bank and most other development experts as one important solution to increasingly underfunded and overcrowded universities. We can see the beginnings of tuition and various kinds of fees in such countries as China, Vietnam, India, more and more countries in Latin America and Africa, and even in formerly tuition-free Europe (indeed, England as of 2012 features among the highest public university tuition fees in the world). We see the dilemma of countries with antiquated constitutional guarantees of free higher education struggling with the need to supplement increasingly inadequate public revenues for higher education. We see mature, even if uneven, private higher education sectors, mainly tuition fee-supported, in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Chile, and most of the rest of Latin America, as well as private sectors beginning to emerge in the countries of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.
  6. In the face of these increasing expenses born by students and parents, national systems and individual institutions face the challenge of maintaining higher educational accessibility, especially for poor, minority, rural, and otherwise underserved populations. (This challenge is particularly compelling in light of the increasing income disparities being experienced in most of the countries of the world.) In the US and many other countries, the principle of expanding higher educational opportunity and accessibility is being met, among other ways, with means-tested student financial assistance and/or student loans or other forms of delayed payment, such as graduate taxes.
  7. At the same time, means-tested assistance--that is, financial assistance that increases accessibility and persistence rather than merely rewarding intelligence and good secondary school records, is difficult and costly, especially in the absence of a tradition of revealing incomes and assets, honestly, in response to tax laws or requests for the documentation of financial need for obtaining student assistance. Furthermore, student loan schemes that actually recover (most of) the borrowed principal and interest are exceedingly rare and difficult, especially in the absence of a mature credit culture and a well-designed loan scheme with professional management.

In the absence of (a) a tradition that supports the appropriateness of at least a modest tuition fee in public colleges and universities, and (b) sufficient and cost-effective forms of student financial assistance, it seems likely that colleges and universities in many (or even most) countries will increasingly be forced either to limit enrollments--and thus continue to serve only a small elite--or must be maintained at such levels of overcrowding and shabbiness such that all students may be denied a good higher education.

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These are the challenges upon which the International Comparative Higher Education Finance and Accessibility Project at the State University of New York at Buffalo has attempted for well over a decade to shed some scholarly light. Although less is being added with Johnstone's emeritus status and Marcucci's transition, we will continue to update country studies, replace out-of-date material, and add occasional new works. We welcome comments and suggestions, which should be directed to D. Bruce Johnstone at dbj@buffalo.edu.

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