1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

Universities and Social Inequalities in the Global South

  • Project from: 2019 to 2019


With the persistent and rising inequalities of our time encompassing not only income and wealth but also inequalities across race, gender, ethnicity and geographic region, it is critical to reinvent, reimagine and strengthen a wide range of policies and institutions that can play a role in overcoming inequalities. This research project focuses on universities as one such institution.

Participation in tertiary education has increased significantly across the globe, in parallel with heightened social aspirations and the expectation of better labour market opportunities stemming from a university degree. However, these assumptions rely on certain economic and social conditions being fulfilled, some of which have worsened in the age of jobless growth. Is higher education truly a key to social mobility in countries of the Global South today?

Following a Call for Expressions of Interest launched in January of 2019, UNRISD has commissioned six papers to feed into the development of a proposal for a research project that will focus on the role of universities in lessening—or, indeed, reinforcing—social inequalities in low- and middle-income countries. The project will be part of the larger UNRISD policy-relevant research inquiry, Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization, which was launched in 2018.

The research on universities and social inequalities in the Global South explores the following questions: What potential does higher education have today to increase social mobility, reduce inequality and contribute to the advancement of society through the production of knowledge and skills? Are institutions of higher education contributing to inequality rather than equality, and if so, through what specific actions and mechanisms? How can the transformative potential of such institutions be fully harnessed for overcoming inequality?

The following papers have been commissioned:
  • Jasper Ayelazuno (University for Development Studies, Ghana) and Maxwell A. Aziabah (University for Development Studies, Ghana) - Leaving No One Behind Through University Education: Actors, Prospects, Challenges, and Contradictions in Ghana
  • Maria Luísa Quaresma (Autonomous University of Chile) and Cristobal Villalobos (Center of Research of Politics and Practice in Education, Chile) - Elite Universities in Chile: Between Social Mobility and the Reproduction of Inequality
  • Yann Lebeau (University of East Anglia, UK) and Ibrahim Ogachi Oanda (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, Senegal) - A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis of Higher Education Expansion and the Production of New Forms of Social Inequalities in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Anja Gaentzsch (University of Bremen, Germany) and Gabriela Zapata Román (University of Manchester, UK) - Climbing the Ladder: Determinants of Access to Higher Education in Chile and Peru
  • Tristan McCowan (University College London, UK) and Julio Bertolin (University of Passo Fundo, Brazil) - Universities and Social Inequalities in the Global South: The Case of Brazil
  • Rebecca Simson (London School of Economics, UK) and Andy Harris (New York University - Abu Dhabi, UAE) - Who Goes to University in Kenya? Inequalities in Access since the 1990s

The papers were commissioned in collaboration with, and with seed funding from, Prof. Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Canada.