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USAID re-energizes its higher education focus

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) released on 9 February a request for applications for its new Higher Education Solutions Network initiative. The new programme – which marks a renewed interest by the agency in engaging with the higher education community – is to run for 5 years and has been given a budget of USD 100 million (EUR 76 million). The overarching goal is to better leverage expertise from universities and research institutions in the US and abroad (particularly in the developing world)—which the agency considers to be “centers of innovation for development”. In this way, USAID hopes to substantially improve the quality of its own work, from design to delivery, tackling development problems around the world.

Specifically, the project will fund two types of centres, single institution centres and consortium centres, which in all cases are encouraged to develop creative, inter-disciplinary approaches to help USAID understand current and future development challenges. The activities of the funded centres are expected to be “evidence-based and anchored in science, technology, engineering, and applied development research and analysis”. The agency expects to fund multiple centres but some have already expressed concern that, in comparison to the expectations for highly innovative output, the funding levels envisioned per recipient centre appear to be rather low: USD 4-5 million (EUR 3-3.8 million) per year per consortium centre and USD 1-2 million (EUR 761 000-1.5 million) per year per single institution center. USAID, however, sees cost-sharing as an integral part of the strategy for this initiative and is actively encouraging applicants to build into their applications cost-sharing and ‘leveraging’ efforts involving private foundations and donors, private sector investors and social entrepreneurs, and even the media.

Interested applicants must submit a preliminary ‘concept note’ by 22 March 2012. If successful in the first screening, a full application is due no later than 17 July 2012, with successful projects to launch as early as fall 2012.