Priorities and Opportunities
August 20, 2009 – 3:30 p.m.
|Presenter: ||Lubov Fajfer, USAID Europe and Eurasia Bureau (E&E)|
Barbara Knox-Seith, USAID Latin America and the Caribbean Bureau (LAC)
Aleta Williams, USAID Africa Bureau (AFR)
|Moderator: ||Gary Bittner, USAID Office of Education |
Participants in this higher education session on opportunities and priorities spoke openly in a town hall format. Education officers from three regional bureaus, LAC, AFR, and E&E, spoke first about the HED programs implemented in their regions, and then the group discussed the opportunities and challenges of promoting higher education further. Barbara Knox-Seith stressed gaps seen in higher education in the LAC region: there is little education access to disadvantaged populations, higher education institutions in the region do not participate in education development, and rising unemployment among young people is seen as a problem. USAID is moving forward to increase the capacity of higher institutions in Latin America and Caribbean, rather than funding outside scholarships.
Aleta Williams from the Africa Bureau noted that the timing is right to think more broadly about higher education. Capacity, access, quality and relevancy are all challenges. The problems are similar in Africa as in the LAC region. We already know that there is a high desire for better higher education, there is demand. Tertiary education goals are advanced throughout the Agency, from the Office of Education. Also, this new vision to improve development by improving human capacity is important. PEPFAR, for example, specifies an increase in the number of medical professionals in the region; but in order to do this the professional need to be properly educated. One of the outcomes USAID AFR hopes to achieve is to mobilize the private sector more and include them in public/private partnerships to develop higher education.
Luba Fajfer from the Europe and Eurasia Bureau focused on the challenges of transparency and accountability in education, especially in school management and finance. The E&E region has a rich history of universities and higher institutions; some go back to the 14th century. Tertiary education was high during the Communist regime, but the problem has arisen in transitioning from a centralized economy to a market economy. Transparency and accountability in education are challenges in teacher training or school management. Any conversations in financing are also related to accountability in school finance.
A lively discussion followed in which the group discussed partnerships between U.S. universities and host country universities. While some members of the group cautioned against U.S. Universities that are just protecting their interests, some members from the universities defended the close relationships they have been able to establish and sustain with local institutions. The group agreed that it is very important to have the commitment of the school/university board from the U.S. and the host universities.
Key take away points of this session included suggestions to help promote higher education programs and potential challenges that can arise. There was a suggestion to look at higher education more as a sector and to discuss measurement mechanisms and long-term sustainability of the sector as a whole. Positive higher education systems can help create a more viable middle class and this can lead to economic growth and sustainable development. Higher education sustainability can also be achieved through partnerships and capacities.