And then there is indirect aid: which is to say the distribution of non-cash benefits to students, either in the form of subsidized housing, subsidized transportation or subsidized meals. This isn’t all that common globally: it’s essentially restricted to some parts of Europe (France & Germany are the largest examples, though there are others), Turkey and francophone Africa. But where it does occur, it can be incredibly costly to governments, even though transparency with respect to costs and the number of beneficiaries is often lacking.
Globally, the percentage of students receiving direct student financial aid is fairly low. As Figure 1 shows, only about one in five students worldwide receive a grant, and just under one-in-eight receives a loan. In total, that’s about 42 million students with grants and about 25 million students with loans (and quite a number of students have both, though duplication across the two is effectively impossible to track). Two things to note here: first, much of the growth in grants world-wide is due to a policy-shift in China which saw grant recipients there rise from nearly zero in 2006 to 15 million in 2018. And second: the percentage of students receiving loans decreased steadily between 2011 and 2018, which is something very few observers of global higher education would have predicted in 2010.
Figure 1: Percentage of Students Receiving Directs Student Financial Assistance, World, 2006-2008