The World Bank's Higher Education Report and its Implication for Woman
International Higher Education
A mong the spaces education offers for social reproduction and change, unquestionably that afforded by higher education is the most coveted. Today's official discourse has become much more sensitive to issues of equality-in terms of social class, gender, and ethnicity. In this twofold context, the recent book by the World Bank on higher education acquires crucial importance as an opinion-setting document. The document focuses on the issues of quality, responsiveness, and equity; I would like to
... examine its treatment of equity from a gender perspective. The book states that women are underrepresented in higher education, as they constitute 25 percent of the enrollment in Africa, 35 percent in Asia, 36 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, and 47 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also notes that although women are enrolled in postsecondary education, they attend universities in smaller proportions than other postsecondary institutions. It further observes that women are concentrated in traditional fields of study such as nursing, teaching, and clerical professions. On the basis of this diagnosis, the World Bank argues that problems affecting women at higher levels of education are primarily those of access and narrow selections of fields. The World Bank identifies four generic solutions to the university crisis: (1) creating differentiated postsecondary institutions (to include universities, short-term careers, distance education, technical institutions, and polytechnics); (2) cost-sharing, with government financing pegged to performance; (3) redefining the role of government in higher education, to include adoption of policies that recognize different types of higher education institutions and inform students about these schools; and (4) decentralizing universities to give them more autonomy, one of the mechanisms for which is to be block grants. Assuming for a moment that access is the most important concern, what does the World Bank propose? It correctly notes that many problems affecting women at the university level originate at earlier stages of schooling and thus should be addressed at those levels. It advises that during secondary schooling, girls should be exposed to and provided with career information, flexible models of attendance (part-time, short courses), and separate facilities appropriate to cultural practices. Two problematic issues appear at this point. One is that the World Bank policy document dealing with pretertiary practices (Priorities and Strategies for Education, 1995) actually says very little about how to intervene in school environments. The other is that recommendations proposed for those levels are instances of accommodation into the existing hierarchical system, in which women occupy the disadvantaged positions. By asking for part-time programs there is an accommodation to the demanding traditional roles of women that are so time consuming; by invoking short courses, there is accommodation to low-prestige occupations that will perpetuate women's subordinate statuses. What does the World Bank propose? It correctly notes that many problems affecting women at the university level originate at earlier stages of schooling and thus should be addressed at those levels. It advises that during secondary schooling, girls should be exposed to and provided with career information, flexible models of attendance (part-time, short courses), and separate facilities appropriate to cultural practices. Two problematic issues appear at this point.