Economics of Higher Education

Academic Year: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

The course is open to all CEU faculty and staff

Elective Course, Higher Education Policy Specialization

The course will familiarize students with 1) key concepts of economic theory and 2) econometric approaches that are commonly used by policy makers and researchers to conceptualize and study higher education institutions and the students that attend them. Through a combination of conceptual and empirical readings, group discussions, and two individual assignments, course participants will explore a range of topic areas relevant to higher education policy, such as the economic and non-economic benefits of higher education, theories of cost increase in higher education, and the role of higher education in national skills training systems.

Through the critical assessment of higher education research from a range of national contexts, course participants will also learn about the strengths and limitations of various econometric techniques. Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to make theoretically grounded and evidence-based arguments in areas of higher education policy such as higher education finance, access and equity policies, and skills training policies.

Learning Outcomes: 

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Outline the main economic theories and concepts as they pertain to higher education attainment (from an individual perspective) and higher education provision (from an organizational and public policy perspective)
  • Assess the strengths and limitations of econometric research on issues related to higher education
  • Inform policy design and policy evaluation in areas related to higher education by drawing on a combination of economic theories and concepts and a critical assessment of available empirical evidence

To successfully complete the course, students have to attend class, read the required readings, participate in in-class discussions, and complete two assignments. The final course grade will comprise of three components: term paper OR podcast (50%), in-class presentation (30%) and class participation (20%).

Term paper OR podcast

At the end of the term, students are required to submit a four-page (max. 2000 words) term paper. In the term paper, students must draw on economic theories and concepts to describe a policy issue related to higher education in a specific national / regional context; provide a critical synthesis of main sources of data and empirical research that policy makers may draw on to inform a debate on potential ways to address this issue; and describe a specific policy or program that has been implemented / proposed to address this issue. Students have the option to submit an empirical term paper or a podcast instead of the policy-focused term paper.

In-class presentation

Halfway through the term, students are required to give a brief (10-minute) presentation of a higher education system, at their proposal and agreed upon with the instructor in advance. Students must describe the higher education system in a specific country, using the economic theories and concepts covered in the course.


Introductory-level familiarity with economics and statistics is an asset but not a requirement for participation in and successful completion of this course.