Kerala’s advanced position in terms of literacy levels, educational achievements and other social indicators is well known. However, regarding higher education, the state displays less impressive development. The article first provides a brief overview of Kerala’s school education scenario as a base for higher education and then examines issues of access and equity related to higher education in Kerala. The findings suggest that four socio-economically backward northern districts of the state, partly facing a vicious circle of poverty and illiteracy, appear to be responsible for holding the entire state back in the rankings of present development indicators. A set of recommendations to strengthen the access and equity pillars of higher education in Kerala concludes this article, together with some comments on the relevance of vocational rather than purely academic education.