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Advance actions will help minimize startup delays.

Prolonged recruitment of the project implementation consultants and preparation of the civil works detailed designs significantly delayed this project’s startup. To minimize such delays in future projects, advance actions should be agreed upon during project preparation and commenced as soon as possible.

Generation of sex-disaggregated data and gender-related information will improve the gender performance of Asian Development Bank- (ADB) assisted projects.

Despite some revisions during the midterm review, this project delivered only 58% of its gender targets, significantly falling short of the 75% delivery requirement for a successful gender performance in ADB projects. Future projects especially like this one, which fall under ADB’s gender as a theme category, should invest more time and effort to ensure that sex-disaggregated baseline data and gender-related information are collected, analyzed, and used to inform the formulation of the gender plan and targets and overall project design.  Gender and social development experts should be brought on board to devise culturally-sensitive gender interventions and ensure the integration of gender in all stages of the project cycle.

Matching scholarship programs can significantly help reduce human capital deficits in higher education.

Under the matching scholarship program, the project offered an opportunity for the 3 major public universities in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to upgrade the qualifications and quality of their faculty through matching scholarships with international or in-country partner universities.  The total cost incurred by foreign partner universities, which agreed to cofinance the program by waiving the tuition fees and accommodation costs of participating students, was 62% lower than the appraisal estimate, showing a huge underutilization of the program.  Notwithstanding this, the initiative was considered successful and is being replicated under the follow-on to this project. Wider promotion by participating universities and efforts to increase women’s participation will optimize this program’s contribution to reducing the human capital deficit in higher education in the country.  Specifically, it will help develop faculty who are better equipped to (i) align their curricula and teaching approaches with country and regional development priorities, (ii) offer master’s and doctoral qualifications, (iii) provide consulting and research services to improve public and private goods and services, and (iv) enhance the financial management and governance systems of higher education institutions in Lao PDR.

A visiting scholars program is an innovative and cost-effective approach to strengthening higher education.

21 short-term visiting scholars from foreign regional universities were supported by this project to help develop training programs and instructional materials in the 3 participating universities.  The pilot scheme significantly contributed to improving teaching quality, curricula, and research as well as generated additional revenues for the project universities.  Lao PDR’s Ministry of Education and Sports commended ADB for introducing this innovative and cost-effective scheme, now being replicated in the Second Strengthening Higher Education Project.

Background

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 3 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 an

expanded, improved, and equitable higher education system.  Its 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.

ADB’s Southeast Asia Department rated the project successful.  MOES was the executing agency. The director general of Department of Higher Education, as project director, headed the project coordinating unit, supervising the work done by the project implementation unit in each of the 3 project universities.

Project Information
Project Name: 
Strengthening Higher Education Project
Report Date: 
September, 2018
Main Sector: 
Project Number: 
Project/Modality: 
Project grant
Sub Sector: 
Source of Funding: 
COL

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