Widening Participation in Higher Education in Ghana and Tanzania


Tanzania is situated on the East Coast of the African continent, and includes the islands of Zanzibar. It comprises 26 administrative regions. The population of 38.3 million people (World Bank, 2006) includes over 120 different ethnic groups (Intute, 2007b). About 45 percent of Tanzanians are Christian, 45 percent are Muslim and 10 percent follow indigenous belief systems. Reflecting the island's historical association with Arabian colonisers, about 97 percent of Zanzibar's population are Muslims (URT, 2007).

The United Republic of Tanzania was formed in 1964 when mainland Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar shortly after independence from Britain. Julius Nyerere became President of the new republic, and his post-independence Arusha Declaration in 1967 laid the foundations for Tanzania's national development based on egalitarianism, socialism and self-reliance. These values were given effect through the nationalisation of business and collectivisation of agriculture. A new secular national identity was forged under the banner of African socialism, with Kiswahili as the national language (Campbell, 1999). Tanzania continued to be a one-party state until political reforms which brought in multi-party political elections in 1995.


As a result of economic crisis in the 1970s, Tanzania initiated a series of home grown economic reforms in 1981 with support from bi-lateral donors, mostly Nordic countries. Later the Tanzanian government was persuaded to approach the IMF and World Bank for advice and funding with the result that between 1982 and 1986 further economic reforms were introduced through a Structural Adjustment Programme.

Following the macro-economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, economic growth in Tanzania improved. Since the late 1990s, GDP growth has continued to climb, and in 2005 reached 6.8 percent (URT, 2006).

The liberalisation of the Tanzanian economy has not changed its basic structure.: Agriculture dominates the economy, providing 44.5 percent of GDP (URT, 2005). Most people earn their livelihood in agriculture; 70 percent of the employed work in this sector (URT, 2005).


In spite of rising economic growth, the percentage of households living below the poverty line hardly changed between 1991 and 2001, falling by only 3 percent (URT, 2005). Today, more than half of the population lives in absolute poverty; 57.8 percent of Tanzanian people survive on less than $1 a day and 89.9 percent live on less than $2 a day (UNDP, 2006:294). As the proportion of people living in absolute poverty has changed very little in Tanzania, in a context of gradually increasing economic growth inequality has increased.

Human development

In spite of very high levels of income poverty, Tanzania performs better in terms of measures of social deprivation than other countries with similar levels of income. Yet, the impact of poverty on well-being is clear. Almost 45 percent of Tanzanians do not survive to their 40th birthday, and 22 percent of children are malnourished.

Tanzanian women have lower levels of access to literacy, to formal education, lower levels of income and reduced life expectancy compared to men. However, Tanzania's static position in the Gender Development Index tables suggests that it is no more unequal than other countries with similar levels of human development.


Tanzania performs relatively well in some measures of gender equity that include indicators of political and economic participation. Tanzanian women participate in economic life to a greater extent than the global average, and participate in political life to a slightly greater extent than women in many other parts of the world.

Women in Tanzania have almost the same opportunities for health and education as men in their country. (World Economic Forum survey Hausmann et al, 2006) Women's access to economic resources remains below that of men. On average, women in Tanzania earn 73 percent of what men earn (UNDP, 2006).

However, UNICEF figures indicate that 49 percent of rural women and 23 percent of urban women are married before they are 18 years old, and 15 percent of Tanzanian women have been mutilated through genital cutting practices (UNICEF, 2006: 135).


High levels of poverty are associated with limited opportunities to enjoy a long and healthy life in Tanzania. The challenge of health is particularly evident in falling life expectancy in Tanzania. In 1990 life expectancy in Tanzania was 54 years, (UNICEF, 2006). By 2004 it had fallen to 45.9 years (UNDP, 2006).

UNAIDS estimates suggest an HIV/AIDS prevalence of 6.5 percent of people aged 15 to 49 years in Tanzania compared to 6.1 percent for the region (UNDP, 2006).

Maternal mortality remains very high and has not improved in the past twenty years (URT, 2005). Infant and child mortality rates also remain high. Infant mortality is 78 per 1000 live births; over 7 percent of all babies will not survive to their first birthday (UNDP, 2006).

Although malnutrition in children has recently shown a small improvement in Tanzania, levels of malnutrition are still high.

With 0.02 physicians and 0.37 nurses per thousand people, Tanzania has a critical shortage in health workers (WHO, 2006). Access to improved sanitation is greater in urban areas, but there is also a significant difference between rural and urban areas in access to improved water sources.

Basic Education

Tanzania's post-independence commitment to basic education for all is reflected in an adult literacy rate of 69.4 percent, which is higher than for much of the Sub-Saharan region, and other countries with similar levels of income or human development (UNDP, 2006). 78 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 are literate.

Access to primary education has exploded in Tanzania since the year 2000, and the implementation of the Primary Education Development Plan (URT, 2005). Recent government figures indicate that net enrolment in primary education has reached 96.1 (URT, 2006:15).

Despite almost complete enrolment in primary education, actual attendance at school and completion of five years of primary education suggest that the goal of Education For All may still be some way off. Poor attendance at school and failure to complete five years of primary education may have many determinants, but poverty remains key. In spite of free primary education for all children, the cost of keeping a child in primary school is considerable for a poor family. Other factors limiting children's access to education include distance to schools, too few schools and schools of poor quality (URT, 2005).

In contrast to high levels of participation in primary education, access to secondary education is extremely limited in Tanzania. In 2006, net enrolment for secondary school reached 13.4 percent (URT, 2006). A key 'bottleneck' for access to secondary education in Tanzania results from the inadequate number of secondary schools (URT, 2005:18).

Yet, in spite of increasing access to secondary schools, failure to complete a primary education and inadequate access to secondary schools continue to prevent access to a secondary education. Although enrolment at entry level for secondary school is similar for girls and boys, retention drops off significantly for girls.

Higher education

Only a tiny proportion of people in Tanzania participate in higher education. The gross enrolment rate for 2000-1 was 0.7 per cent, with a very large gender imbalance - for males the rate was 1.2 per cent, for females 0.2 per cent.

Private higher education came into being during the 1990s with the liberalisation of the economy. In 2004, there were 10 private universities and colleges.

The National Higher Education Policy (1999) aims to address problems of enrolment and access through expanding public facilities and encouraging private universities, cost sharing, affirmative action to expand female participation and the promotion of science and technology. Most institutions have been taking steps to improve female participation

More information is available in the Country Profiles for Ghana and Tanzania: Economic, social and political contexts for widening participation in higher education. Country Profiles for Ghana and Tanzania: Economic, social and political contexts for widening participation in higher education [PDF 429.68KB]

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