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The Canadian research group Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) has published the results of a research study on affordability and accessibility of higher education systems in 17 different countries. In general the results indicate that European countries offer more affordable and accessible higher education than their counterparts in North America and Australasia, with Finland standing out as the leading country in both categories. This is not the first time that HESA has tackled this issue. In 2005, the group undertook an initial research study aimed at identifying a set of indicators for affordability and accessibility. For the current study, the group sought to improve on this work, defining six separate indicators for affordability, four for accessibility, and drawing comparisons across the study countries based on these indicators. It is also interesting to note that the study weighted the indicators, in an effort to provide more accurate and nuanced measurements.
The countries that took part in the survey were: Australia, Canada, Denmark, England and Wales, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United States. Affordability findings were generated by looking at national data for education costs, living costs, grants, loans and tax expenditures. Accessibility was considered to be a function of participation rates, attainment rates, as well as standings on the education equity index (EEI) and the gender parity index.
The report outlined some significant challenges with regard to both defining and measuring these complex issues of affordability and accessibility. The authors are candid about these limitations and suggest the need for further research in both areas in order to improve the accuracy and reliability of this type of study. For example, when it comes to accessibility, more detailed analysis in relation to specific types of higher education institutions is suggested, as well as with regard to the “social origin” of students. Nevertheless, this research has provided substance for further discussions and international comparisons on two highly salient issues in higher education today.
Affordability and Accessibility in Comparative Perspective