“Fiscal Implications of Free Education: The Case of Tanzania”

The abolition of fees for secondary school is an increasingly common policy choice by even low-income countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone in recent years. Such policies can have a transformative effect on access, but have enormous fiscal implications. Without careful planning, countries which abolish secondary fees often end up with deeply unequal secondary school systems, with standards of staffing and infrastructure met in urban areas but largely ignored in rural areas.

Tanzania became one of the first low-income countries to abolish fees for lower secondary education (grades 8-12) in 2015. The new Fee-Free Basic Education Policy enabled a large increase in the proportion of students entering primary school, and the proportion progressing to secondary level. Over the next few years more than a million additional lower secondary places will be required to meet the increase in demand. While this is great news, such a rapid expansion poses significant cost challenges. In partnership with the government of Tanzania, we developed a simulation model to estimate the impacts of various policy parameters on the cost of lower secondary education up to 2025.

I wrote a Policy Note to accompany the model, presenting key projections for lower secondary costs, the additional costs of various improvements to school standards currently under discussion, and potential approaches to reduce costs without sacrificing quality of teaching. I presented the model and the Note at the Public Finance and Public Management Workshop, organized by the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, in Accra, Ghana in October 2018. The model is now being replicated for use in Uganda, Ghana, and other low- and middle-income countries in Africa and elsewhere.

Read the Note.