Privatization of higher education raises a fundamental question — does the expansion of private universities mean that more individuals are able to go to college and university (i.e., expansion and massification), or does it exacerbate already existing inequalities in access? Or both?
In a recent article, I have investigated this question using a nationally representative sample of young people in Egypt.
Young people’s access to higher education in Egypt is expanding in both the public and private sector. Although growth in both sectors facilitates overall expansion, the two sectors have fundamentally opposite implications for equality of access across different demographic groups. Using a new sample of nationally representative data from the Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE), this article brings new and substantially improved data to the question of access to higher education in Egypt, which allows us to examine trends in access not only across demographic groups but also by university sector. Findings suggest that recent trends in access to public universities are in line with equalizing logics – access in the public sector is growing most rapidly for women, rural youth, and middle-class Egyptians. Academic achievement is a key determinant of access and as such, the fact that the wealthy consistently perform better on secondary exit exams is an important contributor to inequality in the public sector. In contrast, access to private universities is growing most rapidly at private universities for males, urban youth, and the top wealth quintile, with wealthy but low-achieving youth seeing substantial growth in the private sector. The findings do not suggest that access to higher education is becoming equal in Egypt, but do indicate that continued expansion of the public sector will promote greater inclusiveness, while expansion of the private sector may exacerbate inequalities.