Using higher education to raise competence levels in developing countries

More of the world’s children now attend school. For example, official statistics indicate that, in 2015, 91% of school-age children attended school (1), whereas only 70% did so in 1980 (2). This is a positive trend, but schooling should not end with basic education.

Around 80% of young people participate in lower-secondary education (3). However, there are major regional variations in completion rates. For example, the completion rate for secondary education is less than 40% in many African countries (4). The figures for higher education are significantly lower. On the other hand, participation in education after the basic level is important to employment and society in general. Depriving developing young people of education and employment will continually reduce the safety and stability of societies.

Better educational attainment tends to secure more stable employment and reduce unemployment (5). It also tends to raise income levels (6). Education therefore promotes development at individual level. On a broader scale, it could be stated that, to become truly autonomous, low-income countries require the participation of their own university educated citizens in the development of their societies. Otherwise, their national development will be directed from outside.

Despite the great need for higher education, most development cooperation actors around the world support basic education. That is why Finland should support the development of higher education in low-income countries. Finland has experience of developing university education through activities such as joint projects between universities in developing countries and Finland. In addition, Finnish education is highly rated around the world. In its development cooperation, Finland has a strong basis for investing more in high-quality university education, and to use expertise from outside the university sector in such work.

The National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) wants to promote access to education at all levels of schooling, thereby increasing equality in low-income countries and Finland. Another of our key aims is to improve the quality of education. Improved skills and competences, not reports and grades, represent the key output of education. One way of improving the quality of education would be to increase local students’ opportunities to affect decision-making, because account should be taken in the development of education of pupils’ and students’ viewpoints on the teaching they receive.
On the basis of its long experience, SYL can help students in developing countries to improve their position within the university community.

Salla Mäkelä
Development Policy Adviser, National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL)

1 UNICEF, 2018:

3 UNICEF, 2018:

4 Our World in Data:

6 Asplund, R. & Maliranta, M. (2006). Koulutuksen taloudelliset vaikutukset. Helsinki: Sitra

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