A Systematic Review of the Evidence of the Impact of Eliminating School User Fees in Low-Income Developing Countries
The findings of this systematic review highlight the need for more rigorous empirical research to investigate the effects of various types of school fees elimination policies in low-income developing nations – particularly on the effectiveness of targeting policies to the most vulnerable groups – accompanying trade offs in education quality, and the extent to which fees abolition policies can be sustained over time without undue donor dependency. Research in this area is complicated by the fact that many countries have already implemented universal free school tuition policies for all primary children, so an appropriate control group is difficult to identify and include in an evaluation.
One possible solution to this challenge may involve utilizing an interrupted time series design involving a single group (e.g. Bloom 2003). In addition, because UPE policies often do not eliminate all household contributions to schooling, additional impact evaluations of non- governmental or government-supported programmes targeting fees elimination for specific groups can shed more light on the true costs of education for households and the degree to which eliminating these costs can improve schooling and other outcomes for the most vulnerable groups.
Longitudinal studies are needed to elucidate the longer-term impacts of fees elimination, including whether initial surges in enrollment are sustained over time and what the policies mean for future educational attainment, employment and other outcomes. Research to determine the full household costs of education (including opportunity costs for boys and girls) for different socio-economic groups is key, as well as determining how much of the full cost of education households are willing and able to bear, given an acceptable level of education quality. Experimentation with different innovations, such as user fees on a sliding scale based on household ability to pay would be informative and could be researched empirically. Studies such as these can provide valuable information to countries that are considering abolishing school fees and can inform strategies for advance planning and targeting of reforms, including planning for efficient allocation of resources at the local level.