During the course of their service, Mickey Leland Hunger Fellows explore both field and policy components of development work, and the link between the two. In this series of updates the Fellows, now in the second year of their fellowships, explore what they’re working on and the critical link between the two arenas of development work.
My policy placement is unique. It is with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), a research, policy, and advocacy organization of public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and higher education organizations. It was founded in 1887 as the American Association of Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations. Although it has since broadened its mandate, APLU’s connection with agricultural sciences and research is a hallmark of its work.
“The training of engineers and agronomists is increasingly viewed as critical for supporting the next stage of economic development.”
Why a higher education placement for a food security fellowship?
When you look at international development, there has been a greater emphasis on developing human capital – especially in STEM disciplines – in order to address challenges such as youth unemployment, population growth, and chronic out-migration of highly skilled professionals from low and middle-income countries. The model of international development is shifting to include a renewed emphasis on sustainability. Because of this, the most forward thinking donors and foundations are increasingly integrating higher education as a means of capacity development. Even projects that do not necessarily have a higher education component envisioned in the original project design are more frequently introducing university training as part of their scope of work.
The training of engineers and agronomists is increasingly viewed as critical for supporting the next stage of economic development rather than relying on expertise from abroad. APLU was recently involved in a feasibility study on an international higher education partnership with Pakistan and a needs assessment for an upcoming urban development and city planning project in Côte d’Ivoire. Especially in lower-middle income countries, higher education components are more readily integrated into projects to leverage universities as a way to facilitate inclusive and broad-based economic growth.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have also incorporated an emphasis on higher education. For example, SDG Target 4.3 aims to ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational, and tertiary education by 2030. In addition, recently published research suggests a correlation between the number of universities in a region and increased GDP per capita at the sub-national level. When you look at higher education and how it impacts development, its effects are far-reaching and long-lasting.
In fact, the benefits to investing in higher education are well documented and wide-ranging in terms of private and social returns, and in some cases exceed rates of return for primary and secondary schooling. In addition, diplomatic efforts are aided through research partnerships and the training of professionals who later become representatives of ministries of agriculture, trade, and planning in key partner countries. When you look at the data and as well as resources such as the Global Education Monitoring Report, there are compelling reasons to invest in higher education for the purposes of achieving development outcomes.
“When you look at higher education and how it impacts development, its effects are far-reaching and long-lasting.”
APLU in the current policy environment
It is an exciting time to be a part of APLU, but also a challenge due in part to the transition to the new administration. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about the transition process through the wealth and depth of experience of the senior leadership at APLU. As an organization, APLU possesses enormous expertise, not only in international development, but also advocacy and congressional affairs. The President, Peter McPherson, is a former USAID Administrator who served under President Reagan. The Vice President of International Programs, Montague Demment, is a former Director of the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) funded by USAID with decades of experience in strengthening of research capacities of local agricultural science systems. I have learned a great deal from their examples of leadership, management, and professionalism.
I am also fortunate to have two former Leland Fellows within my unit. Anne-Claire Hervy is the Associate Vice-President for International Development and Programs and is from the 4th class of fellows. Dr. Samantha Alvis is the Director of International Development and Programs and is from the 7th class of fellows. Having the opportunity to work with them has also helped me to bridge the field year and the policy year through their experience and perspectives.
This year, I have been able to build off of the professional development training I engaged in last year while I was placed at the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. During my field year, I enrolled as a participant in the Global School in Empirical Research Methods (GSERM) to increase my competence in quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and data analysis. This year, I am completing a blended learning postgraduate course for mid-career, working professionals organized by UNU-MERIT. The course is on Evidence Based Research Methods (EPRM) and features training in advanced econometrics and policy analysis. Through the course, I am building skills to be able to translate my experience during my field year into research outputs and advocacy pieces during my policy year.
In my policy placement, I am working on producing a systematic literature review on some of the spill-over effects of long-term training programs in developing countries. I am also working on a multidimensional monitoring and evaluation framework designed to track both private and social returns to higher education investments. I am using primary, project-level data collected from my work in Tanzania to test the framework and incorporating the results into policy recommendations and findings for improving monitoring and evaluation of projects with a higher education and/or long-term training component. I’m hoping this will form the basis for further longitudinal studies of participants supported by US government higher education programs.
There have been several programs that have invested heavily into training agricultural scientists for decades. However, the data collection and analysis component is often terminated once the funding for the program is complete. But the greatest returns are often evident only decades following the original investment in degree training. This framework could help to monitor, evaluate, assess, and present evidence of how those programs are making an impact. There is currently a gap between advocates for greater investment in higher education training and research, policymakers, and international development practitioners who monitor, measure, and track progress in these areas. The mentoring professional development courses supported by the Congressional Hunger Center along with my experience at iAGRI and APLU are helping me to pursue research initiatives to bridge that gap.