Higher education is part of the right to education, protected under international human rights law. This means that states have the obligation to protect respect and fulfil the right to higher education and that there are ways to hold them accountable for violations or deprivations of the right to higher education.
However, despite a comprehensive international legal framework ensuring the right to higher education without any discrimination and a wide political commitment to promote inclusion in higher education, important inequalities persist, both in terms of access to higher education and of access to the most socially rewarding degrees and programmes. Issues such as privatisation of higher education and rising tuition fees represent a threat to equal access and participation in higher education, especially in contexts where structural social inequalities - such as class, gender, or territorial inequalities - persevere. Moreover, certain groups - such as ethnic, racial, and religious minorities as well as migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers - are still widely underrepresented in higher education if compared to their proportion in the population as a whole.
These, and many other challenges regarding access and participation in higher education, can be brought to light when we carefully monitor the right to higher education. It is only by monitoring the right to higher education that adapted laws and policies which can address persistent inequalities and discriminations can be designed.
This guide proposes a human rights based approach to inequalities regarding students’ access to and participation in higher education. This guide is part of a series of thematic guidance notes providing practical advice on monitoring various aspects of the right to education from a human rights perspective.