Comparing the world's largest higher education systems

1 June 2015

The phenomenal growth of further and higher education has created countries with 'large systems'. These large systems share similar advantages and challenges, according to our study released today at Going Global 2015.

This study, commissioned by the British Council study in partnership with UNESCO and the World Bank, reviews nine large system countries with very different political, social and economic conditions in order to identify common characteristics. The nine countries with large systems under review were Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, UK and the USA. Two thirds of all young people in higher education across the world study further or higher education in large system countries.

Large systems such as those in India and China do better in global rankings and have greater opportunities for international collaboration, but they struggle with similar problems - such as providing greater access for non-traditional students and maintaining quality during a period of fast growth.

The study found that the rapid expansion of education had typically come through private sector investment, raising tuition fees paid by 'consumer' students, and the involvement of more vocationally-oriented institutions.

However, the report points out that bigger is not always better, unless standards can be maintained and opportunities are extended beyond the urban and social elites to reach students from the most disadvantaged regions and backgrounds.

Our Director of Education Professor Rebecca Hughes said:

"The findings are a microcosm of the major issues facing all higher education systems - balancing access and affordability, public good and individual benefit, traditional delivery and innovation. I hope that by sharing data, approaches to solutions, and contrasting contexts of the challenges, and also discussing potential cultural barriers and common problems at system level, the British Council can move forward these debates."

Read our full press release.

Go to research.