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UK’s development fund commits £45m to international HE projects

The UK’s Department for International Development will launch a new £45m fund next month to support cross-border partnerships that will help to facilitate higher education transformation in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

SPHEIR will provide approximately 12 grants of £1m-£5m.

The scheme aims to answer enrolment pressures in regions including sub-Saharan Africa

The Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education, Innovation and Reform project is a competitive grant scheme backed by DfID and managed by the British Council, along with PriceWaterhouseCooper and the UK Higher Education International Unit.

“SPHEIR will support partnerships that bring businesses and universities together to develop curricula, improve quality and make HE provision more affordable”

The project was developed based on consultations by DfID’s higher education task force into whether DfID should expand its existing role in developing primary education to also “play a more visible and active role in higher education… in response to the conclusion that there was a very valuable role that the UK and DFID could play”, Joseph Hoffman, team leader for the SPHEIR project at the British Council, told The PIE News.

It aims to answer enrolment pressures created by booming demand for higher education in low- and middle-income countries in regions where DfID is active, including sub-Saharan Africa, where secondary enrolments grew ninefold from 4.3 million in 1970 to 39 million in 2009.

There will also be a focus on ensuring students receive training that matches labour market needs, thus supporting sustainable economic development, and using new approaches to improve access and quality in higher education.

It will fund partnerships between organisations including public and private higher education providers; public sector employers and investors; and civil society groups and foundations.

Partnerships will be selected competitively according to quality, relevance, access affordability and the scale of the impact they will deliver.

Announcing the UK’s commitment to the SPHEIR programme at the Going Global conference in Cape Town last week, Matt Hancock, the UK Cabinet Office Minister, said the programme will “catalyse ambitious, multi-sector and high-value partnerships to transform the quality, relevance, access and affordability of higher education”.

“SPHEIR will support partnerships that bring businesses and universities together to develop bespoke curricula, improve the quality of teaching and make higher education provision more affordable for students,” he said.

The scheme will fund approximately 12 projects over 3-5 years, awarding each between £1m and £5m.

Projects may effect change at the system level – for example in funding, access or quality assurance – or at the programme level, such as implementing new content or modes of delivery.

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