The Global Development Network (GDN) held its 17th annual conference from March 17-18, 2016 in Lima, Peru to deliberate on policies and strategies in education and related areas, intended to ensure that human capital needs are met in the context of rapid global techno-economic changes. The conference attracted more than 350 participants, most of them from the developing world.

EPRC was represented by Paul Lakuma who presented a working paper on "The impact of fiscal transfers on Education spending’’ and Dr. Mildred Barungi whose poster titled, “Who are the biggest beneficiaries of government spending on the universal secondary education programme?” was awarded a prize for scalability, cogency, clarity, applicability and relevant policy message.  The poster was based on a study that analysed government spending on USE in Uganda and was submitted in response to a call for young researchers to share their work at the recent GDN conference in Lima. Refer to the GDN website for more information about the poster competition. 

During the conference, various aspects of education service provision were examined and debated: from the imperatives of Early Childhood Education (ECD), to the need to improve the quality of Universal Primary and Secondary Education. More importantly, the conference reaffirmed the importance for education provision in the developing world. The conference also noted the need to shift the discourse from lower education– Primary and secondary- to higher education.

Indeed, public and private education financing in the developing world has largely focused on lower levels of education in the last two decades. In recent times, many developing countries have implemented variant modes of higher education financing: many have followed the scholarships path; some have provided student loans; and others, such as Uganda, have adopted both models.However, the outcomes of financing innovations for higher education have been mixed. For example, scholarships tend to exclude students, especially from the rural areas, who do not perform very well in standardized examination and whom may not necessarily be bad students.

 

EPRC's Paul Lakuma with another delegate at the GDN conference in Peru

 On the other hand, a model which supports universal provision of higher education may lower the quality of higher education due to increased enrolment affecting employability. In addition, a universal higher education provision is also fungible: the private sector would have a strong incentive to withdraw from financing students and reallocate savings from the scholarships cuts into other activities such as infrastructure and enhancement of staff salaries. Reallocation of funds to such activities would not necessarily be welfare reducing, but such an action questions the sustainability of universal provision of higher education especially in the absence of additional financing from the private sector.

However, the logic to finance higher education in its current form is being questioned among policy makers, especially with increased graduate unemployment. Every African country is faced with high rate of graduate unemployment. Graduate unemployment in particular is very severe and explains the increasing unemployment rate in Uganda. Nevertheless, the importance of higher education cannot be underemphasized. Higher education is increasingly becoming important in Africa to accommodate the youth bulge – 11 million African youth join the work force annually- and to sustain the high economic growth registered by most countries in the continent.

It is possible that the curricula taught in institution of higher learning does not reflect the job market requirements. Indeed, the employment space is constantly evolving. The conversion of polytechnic into Universities in most African countries – including Uganda- and the neglect of vocational and technical education (VTEs) exacerbates the problem. A public policy that seeks to link the private sector and institutions of higher learning would go a long way in reforming the curricula and imparting an education that is relevant to local development requirements. For example, Uganda requires more VTE trained people to take advantage of the window of employment provided by infrastructural projects to be implemented under the national development Plans (NDPs) and the vision 2040.

However, given the gaps in information all the good reforms suggested by the conference may not be possible without evidence based policy making. Some interventions have large and significant impact on welfare others have small, weak and insignificant effects. More often, the insignificance of impact is not because the intervention was inappropriate, but due to poor implementation and lack of capacities. Therefore, it is the role of think tanks and research institutions such as EPRC and GDN to suggest not only timely policies, but to also build capacities in the public and private sector.

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