March 11, 2016

Secondary school tuition fees and enrollment and dropout trends in Malawi

Written by Wael Moussa, Senior Research Associate, FHI 360 Education Policy and Data Center

Photo of a school desk

A forthcoming study from the FHI 360 Education Policy and Data Center examines a potential policy tool to increase secondary attendance in Malawi. We find evidence that tuition fees at the secondary education level act as an effective barrier to grade progression from primary to secondary school. Although Malawi provides primary education at virtually no cost, secondary education is not free. Average household expenditure on tuition is about 20 Kwacha (0.13 USD) in primary grade 8 and 3,763 Kwacha (25 USD) in the first year of secondary school.

The educational fees structure in Malawi creates a natural gap in average tuition expenses between primary and secondary school levels. Figure A below illustrates the tuition gap by plotting the average expected tuition at each grade level in primary and secondary school. In the study, we employ a regression discontinuity (RD) design to identify the effect of tuition fees on grade progression from primary to secondary school. The RD strategy enables us to construct a counterfactual response to the presence of a substantial tuition fee.

The results of our analysis suggest that an additional 17.5-20.2 percent of students (33,602-38,786 students) would progress to secondary school as a result of lowering tuition fees. We also estimate the cost of subsidizing secondary tuition to be approximately 16.04 million USD in the first year with increases in each subsequent year as unaffected cohorts exit the public school system, for a total cost of 73.48 million USD over the first four years. Additionally, the cost of constructing additional classrooms and of training and maintaining additional teachers to keep pupil-teacher ratios at current levels would sum to $106.1 million USD in the initial four years of implementation.

Watch for the full report later this year, and learn more about our work here.