Higher education development programs are subject to shifting priorities within aid agencies, such as new sector strategies, aid implementation reforms, and changes in foreign policy direction. For higher education programs funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the latter half of the Obama Administration (2011–2016), this shift meant a new education strategy and USAID Forward reforms that sought new partnerships, enhanced focus on science and technology, and challenged programs to reach greater scale and better sustainability. For the Asia region—the geographic focus of this study—this time period also witnessed a foreign policy “pivot” to Asia, with the US Government (USG) seeking increased economic ties, improved institutional linkages, greater people-to-people exchanges, and deeper engagement of regional multilateral organizations in the Asia region.
This study inventories selected higher education investments made by USAID in the Asia region during this period to catalog program diversity and assess how and to what extent the programs reflect these broad trends.1 In all, the research team considered 34 programs across 13 countries. The programs reviewed were mostly small ($1 million to $3 million in funding on average), involved US higher education institutions as partners (70%), and were concentrated at upper tertiary level bachelors and graduate programs, and advanced research (85%).
All of the programs reviewed showed programmatic design and implementation characteristics consistent with the broad trends assessed, though some criteria considered were less prevalent, especially the Asia Pivot parameters. Given increasing evidence that higher education is one of the most important education investments a country or an individual can make, it is prudent for USAID to learn from these diverse programs and determine promising approaches. Unfortunately, only eight of the 34 programs reviewed had been evaluated previously, making learning from these programs more difficult.