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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Crisis of Public Higher Education: A Comparative Perspective


Is public tertiary education really in a crisis, and, if so, what is the crisis about? This paper analyses international aggregated data and examines to what extent there has been a crisis of public tertiary education in OECD countries in the past decade. It first focuses on relative enrolments in the public and private sectors to show that enrolments in the public sector have not significantly declined, and only marginally benefited the private for-profit sector. It then analyzes changes in the funding of tertiary education from the perspectives of tertiary education institutions, students and governments. It shows that only students can (to some extent) complain about a recent crisis of funding and of public funding of tertiary education. Finally, the paper points to other possible reasons for the perceived crisis. Throughout the paper, the differences in the structure of public/private enrolments and funding in the United States and other OECD countries are emphasised to help better understand the differences in tertiary education policy debates in the United States and most other OECD countries.

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