For decades, it was believed that funding should be siphoned into lower levels of education rather than university education, and throughout the 1980’s studies argued in favor of this mode of international aid. However, more recent studies show conclusive evidence that higher education has manifold benefits for developing nations. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is perhaps the paragon of the potential that universities and development agencies have when they work together. USAID has chosen to forego any future partnership with Higher Education for Development, an intermediary that works with universities at home and abroad, opting to instead work directly with universities themselves.This signals a more hands-on approach that shows the growing importance of higher education in the eyes of USAID.One very important case of this approach is the Higher Education Solutions Network, which attempts to find solutions to global issues such as food security through development labs at seven different universities.Another example of the commitment of USAID to higher education is its appointment of a senior higher education coordinator that will serve to improve the agency’s transparency and accountability.In every way, USAID shows the desire to forge strong relationships with universities in the belief universities are integral to addressing global problems.One real world example of these burgeoning relationships involves Burma and USAID’s attempt to help the country in its transition to democracy through its universities.In addition to supporting the future leaders of Burma, USAID hopes to create a culture of democracy within the universities that will proliferate outward, focusing on expanding courses in business and politics.The fact that Burma is near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index shows the ambitious and optimistic nature of the endeavor, as well as the belief in the importance of higher education.The relationships formed through these partnerships have also gone a long way in mending what has been a problematic one between the U.S. and the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan since the killing of Osama bin Laden. USAID has sponsored and trained Afghan professors and hopes that this might curb the rampant Islamic extremism within the country.The U.S. also expanded the Fulbright program to Pakistan in 2011, providing 200 scholarships to bright Pakistani students to pursue an advanced degree. This makes it possible for intelligent but poor Pakistanis to transition to a higher economic strata.
USAID’s commitment to addressing global problems through its engagement with higher education is already being noticed and utilized by other agencies. As Peter McPherson, director of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, states, “There’s no question that USAID’s engagement with universities has increased…There’s more money and more relationships.” A good combination for helping those in need.
– Jordan Schunk