IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Abolishing School Fees in Malawi: The Impact on Education Access and Equity


  • Samer Al-Samarrai
  • Hassan Zaman


In 1994, the newly elected Government in Malawi abolished primary school fees. Using household survey data from 1990/91 and 1997/98, this paper assesses the impact this major policy change, combined with increased Government spending on education, has had on access to schooling by the poor. This paper shows that enrolment rates have increased dramatically over the 1990s, at both the primary and secondary levels, and that crucially these gains have been greatest for the poor. In order to sustain and build-on these gains the paper suggests cutting back on the informal 'contributions' that are widely prevalent in primary school and improving the allocation of secondary school funding. Furthermore, the focus of policy reform, particularly at primary level, should shift towards raising the quality of education. Finally the paper argues that careful advance planning and piloting of the reform in selected areas are useful strategies that other countries considering abolishing primary school fees could take to cope with the associated surge in enrolments.

Suggested Citation

  • Samer Al-Samarrai & Hassan Zaman, 2007. "Abolishing School Fees in Malawi: The Impact on Education Access and Equity," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(3), pages 359-375.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:edecon:v:15:y:2007:i:3:p:359-375 DOI: 10.1080/09645290701273632

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Castro-Leal, Florencia & Dayton, Julia & Demery, Lionel & Mehra, Kalpana, 1999. "Public Social Spending in Africa: Do the Poor Benefit?," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 14(1), pages 49-72, February.
    2. van de Walle, Dominique, 1998. "Assessing the welfare impacts of public spending," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 365-379, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Makate, Marshall & Makate, Clifton, 2016. "The causal effect of increased primary schooling on child mortality in Malawi: Universal primary education as a natural experiment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 168(C), pages 72-83.
    2. Adrienne M. Lucas & Isaac M. Mbiti, 2012. "Access, Sorting, and Achievement: The Short-Run Effects of Free Primary Education in Kenya," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 226-253, October.
    3. Monica J. Grant, 2015. "The Demographic Promise of Expanded Female Education: Trends in the Age at First Birth in Malawi," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 41(3), pages 409-438, September.
    4. repec:eee:injoed:v:53:y:2017:i:c:p:163-175 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Jacobus de Hoop, 2010. "Selective Secondary Education and School Participation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Malawi," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 10-041/2, Tinbergen Institute.
    6. Sophia Chae, 2016. "Parental Divorce and Children’s Schooling in Rural Malawi," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 53(6), pages 1743-1770, December.
    7. Smith-Greenaway, Emily, 2015. "Are literacy skills associated with young adults' health in Africa? Evidence from Malawi," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 124-133.
    8. Essama-Nssah, B., 2008. "Assessing the redistributive effect of fiscal policy," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4592, The World Bank.
    9. Anurag Banerjee & Parantap Basu & Elisa Keller, 2016. "Business Cost and Skill Acquisition," CEGAP Working Papers 2016_01, Durham University Business School.
    10. Valente, Christine, 2015. "Primary Education Expansion and Quality of Schooling: Evidence from Tanzania," IZA Discussion Papers 9208, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Julia Behrman, 2015. "Does Schooling Affect Women’s Desired Fertility? Evidence From Malawi, Uganda, and Ethiopia," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(3), pages 787-809, June.
    12. Jingyi Huang & Yumei Guo & Yang Song, 2016. "Intergenerational transmission of education in China: Pattern, mechanism, and policies," Working Papers 415, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.

    More about this item


    Sub-Saharan Africa; Malawi; education; public expenditure; inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:edecon:v:15:y:2007:i:3:p:359-375. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Chris Longhurst). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.