GLOBAL: France, Germany top providers of aid

The world's biggest higher education aid donors have emerged as France and Germany. France provides some $1.36 billion and Germany around $1.05 billion a year, mostly in the form of scholarships and fellowships, according to VN Varghese, Secretary General of the International Working Group on Education, a Paris-based group of aid agencies.

"A large chunk of aid to higher education is coming from France and Germany. They are providing money to attract students to their own countries, partly through scholarships but also through other subsidies," Varghese said.

Aid for higher education in the form of scholarships for overseas study and support for developing country universities has grown in recent years, reversing a trend in the 1990s when aid donors prioritised primary and secondary education in developing countries, he said.

Varghese predicted that aid to higher education would continue to increase, as the sector is back on the agenda of major donors. "There is no possibility of aid declining in higher education. The higher education system has to expand," he told University World News.

And the growth in aid to higher education has been rapid. "Many countries see this as a way of creating new markets," Varghese said.

Education as a share of bilateral aid to developing countries is around 18% in France - mainly going to Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa - and around 13% in Germany and the Netherlands, compared to just 3% in Britain and 3.5% of US bilateral aid.

"Globally, a change is taking place in aid to education," Varghese explained. "Education aid increased to $12.1 billion [by 2010] and 40% of that is going to post-secondary education. It is a big jump from just 33% of aid flows being channeled to the post-secondary sector in 1999 to 2000," he said.

India and China are big beneficiaries of the retargeting of education funding. For example, China receives $700 million a year in aid for higher education, according to a recent paper* by Varghese, who is also an official at the Institute of International Education of UNESCO in Paris. Other major beneficiaries are Vietnam, Malaysia and Iran. In North Africa Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are the main beneficiaries.

Asia and the Pacific receive the highest share of global aid flows to higher education, at around 29% of the annual $3.3 billion in aid to higher education reported by the World Bank in 2010, on the basis of the most recent complete statistics, many of them from 2007. Arab states receive 21% and Africa 18%.

Germany's Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is the biggest higher education funder globally, providing 66,000 to 67,000 fellowships a year. Two-thirds of these, 45,000 fellowships, are awarded to foreign students the rest is for German students to study abroad.

"Most of the money is going to North Africa, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, but also Eastern Europe which gets a large chunk as the [German government is] keen to build a better relationship with their eastern neighbours," Varghese said.

While Britain and the US have focused on research, Germany's strengths include a strong vocational and technical education sector.

French aid to higher education was $380 million a year in the late 1990s and has increased to US$1,360 million a year according to UNESCO statistics published in 2010. Around half of the aid is spent on scholarships, mainly for postgraduate students in France.

The French government sees that "the way they can protect their markets is by nurturing an elite that will support France," Varghese said.

"France is looking to strengthen links with francophone Africa. Many Africans are getting higher education funding [in the form of scholarships] from the US or the UK and this is affecting trade and markets. Globalisation has taken away the protected market structure of the old colonial ties, and competition has become fierce."

Half of France's scholarships are for study in France. Aid to Cameroon alone is EUR107 million (US$153 million) a year.

Using higher education assistance to help develop and build markets is nothing unusual. In the US many doctors from India in the private and public sector are trained in the most advanced medical technologies before they go back. "They find that they can sell their medical equipment in India because practitioners are familiar with it," Varghese said.

*VN Varghese, "Where Does Higher Education Aid Go?", in The Geopolitics of Overseas Scholarships and Awards (Norrag, April 2011).