The World Bank’s Tertiary Education Projects in Europe and Central Asia are Supporting Efforts to Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic (News and Research 228)

The average private return to tertiary education is just over 15 percentIt is 10 percent in Europe and Central Asia, but increasing over time, despite substantial enrollment increases. Therefore, it remains a viable investment with substantial private returns. Tertiary education also has high social returns. The World Bank’s tertiary education portfolio in Europe and Central Asia supports, among other things: strengthening research capacity; increasing financial efficiency; enhancing relevance and linking to labor market demand; and improving quality assurance, often in an effort to conform to the Bologna process. The tertiary education projects are also supporting efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The portfolio gives us a unique opportunity to respond to the crisis. Not only in terms of supporting the tertiary education sector, but also by using the reach of universities to support the general public. Some examples follow.

A Stroll Around the University of Bologna | ITALY Magazine

In Montenegro, the recently-completed Higher Education and Research for Innovation and Competitiveness (HERIC) project focused on strengthening tertiary education and research at universities. The Institute for Public Health is conducting sensitive tests to detect the coronavirus presence where it is suspected in patients, relying on highly specialized equipment, the RT-PCR – real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction – machine, which is the most reliable method of virus detection available. The Institute acquired the machine back in 2015, with support from the Bank-funded project. See the blog where the Minister of Science, herself a CERN scientist, explains the benefits.

In North Macedonia, the Skills Development and Innovation Support Project aims to improve the transparency of resource allocation and promote accountability in tertiary education, enhance the relevance of secondary technical vocational education, and support innovation capacity in the country. The project supported an engineering firm to expand its work in the field of molecular biology, which allows it to perform routine microbiological and meta-genomic analysis. Part of the equipment in the laboratory was converted and transferred to the genetics laboratory to boost existing capacity for the increased need for COVID-19 tests. Another firm supported by the project is offering preventive health care and a technical school is providing free educational materials for children. For more details, please see the blog.

The Tajikistan Higher Education Projectaims to develop mechanisms to improve the quality and labor-market relevance of tertiary education. The Ministry of Education and Science is allocating $1 million of project savings to support selected institutions to strengthen their Distance Learning (DL) Systems through assessment of the institutions’ needs and development and implementation of the DL systems’ upgrade plans.

In Uzbekistan, the Modernizing Higher Education Projecthelps strengthen managerial capacity and improves both the labor market relevance and the learning environment of selected institutions. With the support of the Bank, the Ministry of Higher Education developed and launched two additional online modules that are part of the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS), expanding the Ministry’s capacity to manage graduate admissions and transfers fully online in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns. The platform for graduate admissions: 77,103 applicants applied. Platform for transfers and readmission: 43,516 applications received. Total: 120,619 beneficiaries. Two platforms have been developed: (1) Development of online platforms to support graduate admissions ( and (2) student transfers ( The platform supports 86 universities and this year a total of 77,103 applications were accepted from applicants in 522 specialties, of which 35,511 applications were from females. Compared to last year (25,913 applications), the number of applications increased almost 3 times using this information system. Similarly, a through new platform, a total of 43,516 applications were submitted this year, increasing the total number 2.9 times compared to last year (15,219 applications). It is expected the project will also finance during calendar year 2021 video and audio studios for online teaching and learning.


Instruction Time and Student Achievement: The Moderating Role of Teacher Qualifications | Recent evidence suggests a positive effect of the quantity of instruction on student achievement. In this paper, I focus on the interaction between the quantity and the quality of instruction. Using international TIMSS data, I exploit within-student between-subject variation. I find that on average, an additional hour of instruction time leads to an increase of 0.03 standard deviations in students’ test scores across all countries. Importantly, these effects of instruction time are significantly larger for students with better qualified teachers, resulting in an increase in test scores of 0.04 to 0.05 standard deviations. While on average, instruction time has no significant effect in developing countries, it increases test scores by 0.02 standard deviations when taught by a high-qualified teacher also in developing countries.

Labor Market Returns to Vocational Secondary Education| We study labor-market returns to vocational versus general secondary education using a regression discontinuity design created by the centralized admissions process in Finland. Admission to the vocational track increases initial annual income and this benefit persists at least through the mid-thirties, and present discount value calculations suggest that it is unlikely that life-cycle returns will turn negative through retirement. Moreover, admission to the vocational track does not increase the likelihood of working in jobs at risk of replacement by automation or offshoring. Consistent with comparative advantage, we observe larger returns for people who express a preference for vocational education.

Caffeinated Development: Export Sector, Human Capital, and Structural Transformation in Colombia  This paper studies the effect of the first wave of globalization on developing countries’ structural transformation, using data from Colombia’s expansion of coffee cultivation. Counties engaged in coffee cultivation in the 1920s developed a smaller manufacturing sector by 1973 than comparable counties, despite starting at a similar level in 1912. My empirical strategy exploits variation in potential coffee yields, and changes in the probability to grow coffee at different altitudes. This paper argues that coffee cultivation increased the opportunity cost of education, which reduced the supply of skilled workers, and slowed down structural transformation. Using exogenous exposure to coffee price shocks as an instrument, I show that reductions in cohorts’ educational attainment led to lower manufacturing activity in the long-run. The effect is driven by both a decrease in demand for education, and reductions in public goods. Finally, coffee cultivation during the early 20th Century had negative long-run effects on both individual incomes and poverty rates.

Texting Parents about Early Child Development: Behavioral Changes and Unintended Social EffectsParenting interventions have the potential to improve early childhood development. Text messages are considered a promising channel to deliver parenting information at large scale. This paper tests whether sending text messages about parenting practices impacts early childhood development. Households in rural Nicaragua were randomly assigned to receive messages about nutrition, health, stimulation, or the home environment. The intervention led to significant changes in self-reported parenting practices. However, it did not translate into improvements in children’s cognitive development. When local opinion leaders were randomly exposed to the same text message intervention, parental investments declined and children’s outcomes deteriorated. Since interactions between parents and leaders about child development also decreased, the negative effects may have resulted from a crowding-out of some local leaders.

Explaining the rural-urban learning achievements gap in Ethiopian primary education: a re-centered influence function decomposition using Young Lives data | The rural-urban learning achievements gap is a persistent issue to be addressed from a different approach. This study employed re-centered influence function decomposition with Young Lives data to estimate the rural-urban education production function and decompose the rural-urban learning achievements gap in Ethiopia. Results revealed that the rural-urban education production function is different across achievements distributions. Moreover, most of the rural-urban learning achievements gap is explained by student background characteristics. Unmeasured characteristics explain much of the proportion of the gap but the importance of that proportion varies across the distribution. Policy implications of the findings were discussed.


Japan Launches Initiative to Loan Displaced Workers to the Education System | Japan’s Ministry of Education has launched an effort to match workers displaced from their jobs due to the pandemic with openings in the education system. The workers would maintain their corporate employment but work on loan to fill needed positions in the schools. The effort is targeted at particularly hard-hit industries, such as the airlines, and aims to both mitigate job loss and to bring more industry experience to schools. Openings on the site will include assistants for English education, information and communications technology assistants and business etiquette lecturers, officials of the ministry said. Many of these jobs do not require a teaching license. In addition to helping companies, Education Minister Kōichi Hagiudo said, “The system will provide good opportunities for utilizing know-how and expertise accumulated by companies for school education.”

Laptops at the ready | The lockdown has helped Greece to digitize | It used to be a laggard |Greece ranks at or near the bottom of the EU class on digitization, whether you measure it by high-speed internet connections, ownership of laptops and tablets, or online shopping. The government’s digital-transformation “bible”, a scheme to catch up with European peers by 2025, which includes 400 separate projects, is months behind schedule. Yet the country’s second lockdown in November (now set to last until at least January 11th) has spurred an unexpected leap forward in one important area: distance learning…

The curious case of investment in education