In October 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a $24.8 million grant for the Strengthening Higher Education Project in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). In accordance with the priorities identified in the National Education System Reform Strategy, 2006–2015 and the Education Sector Development Framework prepared collaboratively by the government and development partners, the project aimed to improve the country’s higher education system and make it more equitable. It targeted three public universities: Champasak University in Pakse, National University of Laos (NUOL) in Vientiane, and Souphanouvong University in Luang Prabang.
The project’s anticipated impact was improved economic competitiveness and increased employment opportunities for higher education graduates. Its expected outcome was anexpanded, improved, and equitable higher education system. Its planned key outputs were (i) strengthened management, financing, and governance of the higher education system; (ii) enhanced relevance and capacity for quality improvement; and (iii) increased equity and access to higher education.
At completion, the project was able to establish the Lao university management system, providing the foundation for improving the universities’ governance as they move toward financial autonomy. Annual tuition fees were introduced, raising the universities’ yearly revenues by about 45% since the beginning of the project. University councils ─ comprised of representatives from the national chamber of commerce, provincial governments, private companies, state enterprises, and mass organizations ─ were established in Champasak University and Souphanouvong University, where they were yet inexistent.
The project also supported the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) in preparing Lao PDR’s first national qualification framework for higher education and technical and vocational education, in line with regional and international standards. MOES’ development of quality assurance training manuals, training of masters and assessors, and higher education monitoring and performance assessment were also assisted.
Human capital deficits in tertiary education were addressed by providing faculty with opportunities to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees at national and overseas universities and by training them in various functional areas, including curriculum development and assessment, instructional skills and teaching methods, quality standards assessment, and more. Research capacity was strengthened and academic exchange programs with foreign universities were supported. Core textbooks were developed. Learning facilities were upgraded and new ones were constructed. Equity and access were improved by reducing the ratio of quota students, reserving slots for disadvantaged students, cutting the number of nonpoor students and tuition fee support for them, and providing dormitories for students from ethnic and poor rural communities.
Shortfalls in several output targets were encountered. Nevertheless, the project significantly contributed to strengthening the higher education system in the Lao PDR, positively impacting institutional development, the teaching and learning environments, and employability of public university graduates. Besides carrying forward gender mainstreaming in higher education, it also directly contributed to expanding higher education opportunities for disadvantaged female students from rural and ethnic communities.
MOES was the project executing agency. The director general of the Department of Higher Education headed the project coordinating unit, supervising the work done by the project implementation unit in each of the 3 project universities.