In its conventional avatar, higher ed is quite expensive, not just in the rich countries, but in poorer ones as well. A recent post -- The Cost of Expanding Access in Poor Countries -- fleshes out some implications of this fact:
... You can see this most easily if you express countries’ expenditures per student on higher education as a fraction of GDP/capita. In advanced OECD countries, that number is usually in the region of 30%; in Africa, it is frequently over 100% (and even with that disparity, it’s not even close to buying a similar end-product). It’s quite simply enormously expensive for governments in this situation to expand higher education.