The importance of social sciences to international development

21st September 2020

One of Aspect’s key projects, which is being driven by The University of Sussex, is the internationalisation of the Aspect network.

In this context, we spoke to Stephan John, Secondary Benefits Specialist: Education, from the Department for International Trade, about the Skills for Prosperity (S4P) Programme, the importance of social sciences to international development and the scope for Aspect partners to engage with the initiative.

What is the Skills for Prosperity Programme?

The UK is providing support to nine middle income countries (MICs) to tackle skills deficits which are holding back sustainable and inclusive growth and poverty reduction (Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines and South Africa). We are investing to improve the quality, relevance, equity and cost effectiveness of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and HE, principally through providing technical assistance which draws on UK expertise.

We aim to expand the government’s capacity to support TVET and HE across new geographies and underrepresented groups, to make opportunities more accessible to poor and excluded groups, particularly women and girls, youth and people with disabilities. In the nine countries, the expect outcomes include improved skill levels, employment rates and productivity of beneficiaries (for HE and TVET students). This programme is also

intended to generate secondary benefits for international business, potentially including UK business, from these nine high-priority future markets through increased contract values and increased education exports.

Can you outline the main focus areas that would be relevant to Aspect and Aspect partner universities?

The DIT is responsible for driving UK PLC and with the advent of BREXIT and COVID-19 the role for DIT in terms of UK PLC education experts is now more important than any time in our modern history. The programme aims to develop a springboard into new markets or regions and it offers opportunity to internationalise best practise and develop local partnerships that UK and local partners can learn from. This is the basis of the sustainability and scaling objectives of the programme. The programme links education and skills to economic growth and there are knowledge transfer opportunities with the emerging middle-income countries involved.

The programme has a wide cross-sectional education focus and most will have relevance for the higher education sector in the UK, including the following key areas:

  • National Qualification Framework and governance enhancement;
  • Lifelong Learning strategy and policy;
  • TVET curricula development and support;
  • TVET capacity building and institutional capacity development;
  • Enhancement of quality and quality assurance;
  • Support for leadership and teaching quality;
  • Targeted English Language teaching (ELT) support;
  • Higher level skills;
  • Competence-based training;
  • Work based and related learning;
  • Regulatory and policy development;
  • Gender segregation inclusion; and
  • Inclusion of marginalized groups.

Obviously, a programme like Aspect can feed in across these areas. The demands of Higher Education in the UK and in emerging middle-income countries is for it to support well-being and skills that support them to take part in the rules based international eco-system. Potential engagement with the S4P programme and the right partner countries allows Aspect to explore the wider role of social sciences in the development of people for economies in different contexts.

The most recent example, which you would be familiar with, is the feed into the Kenyan Skills 4 Prosperity submission that the University of Sussex supported as part of the Workforce Development Trust consortium.  In this call, the terms of reference were organised into three strands, which were:

Strand 1: Strengthening education to industry links at the institutional level, tailored to priority sectors key to county or national development.

Strand 2: Developing an enabling environment for a strong skills eco-system through technical assistance and capacity building – including enhanced institutional capacity and capability.

Strand 3: Improving access to HE and TVET education for marginalised and unemployed youth.

Further, with the need to capacitate the Kenyan education sector we saw and continue to see UK Higher Education as a key player in the success of the S4P programme and we hope to see submissions from Aspect partners along with suitable TVET and 3rd sector partners.  

The areas have a strong focus on TVET, how would you see UK HE sector working in the target countries?

The programme intentionally has a skills focus as the ultimate objective is prosperity through improved work in middle income countries. Importantly each county will scope its own skills needs for this aim and these skills needs may arise at any level, including at the HE level. The interventions are in and of themselves clearly linked to HE and wider economic development. Much like HE in the UK is integrally involved in the UK Industrial Strategy, we would see UK universities engaging with the TVET and HE sectors in the target countries to support the various interventions, support capacity building, promote technology transfer and knowledge exchange. As an example, TVET capacity building is likely to be at least at NQF levels 6 and 7 and through stakeholder engagement – we would see our HE partners working to support suitable capacity building interventions.

The project lists direct and indirect secondary benefits for the UK, can you elaborate in terms of the HE sector in the UK?  

In all of the DIT activities we are focussed on securing mutual benefits for the target countries and UK PLC alike. With the advent of COVID-19 it is clear that the landscape is undergoing a significant change, education being one of the most seriously impacted sectors. The best way to assess the secondary benefits is in terms of the metrics that DIT will use to assess the impact of the programme:

  • Exports of goods and services from the UK to target countries;
  • Overseas Direct Investment (ODI) from the UK into target countries;
  • Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from target countries into the UK;
  • Removal of key market access barriers in target countries; and
  • Promotion of trade between the UK and target countries.

How would you see Aspect engaging with the DIT and the Skills for Prosperity programme specifically?

The DIT is excited to see that Aspect has an interest in S4P and with the spread of partners that make up the Aspect network there is extensive scope to work on solutions and interventions. The DIT through my desk would be happy to explore possible solutions along with the Aspect team and work with the Aspect network to develop and agree delivery requirements and potential approaches to identified Secondary Benefit opportunities. An important task will be to identify what elements of Aspect’s work might be particularly useful in establishing relationships and partnerships with skills or industry stakeholders for new international opportunities. In developing a diverse network of in‐country demand (including potential in‐country clients), in line with UK comparative advantage we will look to match up and support Aspect to gain opportunities as a result of developments. In line with the programme’s methodology we will help to scope market access and support stakeholder relationship management through building networks and relationships across the Fund’s middle-income countries.

Photo credit: Porapak Apichodilok via Pexels

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