|4.b By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries|
There is no mechanism yet in place to monitor the number of scholarships available, and the proposed global indicator that focuses on aid for scholarships only gives a very partial picture of the volume and type of such scholarships.
The roots of the target on scholarships can be traced back to a commitment made in the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011–2020. However, the target sits uneasily with two of the core principles of the sustainable development agenda: universality and equity.
Moreover, even the wording in the target fails in several practical respects. For example, by stating that scholarships must be ‘available to developing countries’, the target excludes large programmes where developing countries fund their own citizens to study abroad. And by stating that enrolment must take place ‘in developed countries and other developing countries’ it excludes cases where donors fund citizens of a developing country to study at home.
Governments are certainly not the only scholarship providers. However, it would be inappropriate to make non-state providers, such as corporations, foundations or philanthropists, accountable for the achievement of the target. Such funders are under no obligation to ‘substantially expand’ the provision of scholarships to students in ‘developing countries.’
If this target is to gain traction, it is important to monitor a wide range of scholarship programmes, since their availability can influence the policies of donor countries. But not all scholarship programmes should count as contributing to the target. For clarity, the 2016 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report has proposed that we should count only scholarships that (i) refer to study in countries other than students’ home countries and (ii) are at least partly publicly funded.
The GEM Report commissioned the Institute of International Education to estimate how many scholarships were being provided using this definition. The research showed that some 22,500 scholarships were offered in 2015, equivalent to 1% of mobile students from developing countries. But it also highlighted that there is as yet no systematic data collection mechanism.
Additional information collected should include the duration of the scholarship; the number of scholarship recipients who complete their studies; and the number of scholarship recipients who return to their country of origin. Also needed is detailed information by sex, level of study, mode of study (e.g. on site or by distance) and country of study of scholarship recipients.
Scholarship programmes should share information that help us understand how they contribute to the target [Tweet]. A coordinating agency should be entrusted with the task of ensuring that common standards are used.
In the absence of a global mechanism saying how many scholarships there are, the international community decided that the global indicator should look at the ‘volume of official development assistance flows for scholarships by sector and type of study’. In 2014, US$2.8 billion of aid was allocated to scholarships and imputed student costs. Of this, US$386 million was directed to least developed countries and small island developing states.
However, donor countries vary a lot in how they report this expenditure. France and Germany include their public scholarship programmes and imputed student costs (i.e. indirect costs of tuition in donor countries) under their aid budget: indeed such spending accounts for more than half of their total direct aid to education. By contrast, the United Kingdom and the United States are major providers of scholarships but they register only a small proportion of these programmes as aid.
Monitoring this target according to aid flows does not therefore provide a valid or comprehensive picture of expenditure on scholarships and is not appropriate as a global indicator. Efforts need to focus on directly measuring the number of scholarships provided [Tweet]: the target date of 2020 means that there is no time to waste.
This is the second in a series of ten blogs on monitoring SDG4, which we hope will serve as a reminder of some of the challenges remaining, and as a call to join hands to address them. Join us over the next two weeks by direct tweeting some of our key recommendations from this blog series to members of the two groups finalising education indicators on our behalf.