Benchmarking Higher Education System Performance

The role of higher education is vital to our societies. Higher education contributes to human capital formation, to innovation and to the wider economic, social, cultural and environmental development.

As a result, higher education is rapidly expanding. Participation and attainment is increasing, the number of higher education institutions is growing and the sector serves a more diverse body of students. In addition, higher education is becoming increasingly global.

The sustained growth of higher education reflects its benefits. There are large incentives for individuals to obtain higher education qualifications. On average, higher education graduates have better labour market outcomes, they earn more than other workers, and individuals gain significant private returns on their investment in higher education.

Both governments and individuals are spending more on higher education. There are large incentives for society to invest in higher education, and countries generally gain significant public returns on their higher education.

The benefits of education are not only financial. Graduates are more likely to report other desirable personal or social outcomes, including good health, participation in volunteer activities, that they trust others, and that they feel they have a say in government. In other words, more highly educated adults tend to be more engaged in the world around them.

Communities also value higher education for continuing education, technology and knowledge transfer, social engagement, regional development, and regional integration.

However, the costs of higher education are becoming increasingly difficult to manage. Students and families are increasingly being asked to share the cost of higher education, and the debate on grants and loans continues.

Despite its benefits, questions are being raised about the performance of higher education systems.

The OECD proposes a programme of work to contribute to the enhancement of performance of higher education systems, which includes a benchmarking approach to higher education system improvement very different from league tables and rankings -.

The benchmarking approach goes beyond metrics to focus also on policy and practice benchmarking in order to tell the story behind the performance of higher education systems. It will enable cross-country comparisons and peer learning to support the developmental dimension of performance measurement and management, and inform higher education policy design, implementation and evaluation.

The work includes a stakeholder dialogue, to which the EAIR community, with its unique mission of linking research, policy and practice, is well placed to contribute to.


Dr. Cláudia S. Sarrico

Dr. Cláudia S. Sarrico

University of Lisbon, Portugal Associate Professor, ISEG Lisbon School of Economics & Management

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