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08 Nov 2012

New Perspectives on Dutch Programmes for Cooperation in Post-Secondary Education and Training

By Ad Boeren, Nuffic.

Shaping the Future

On 2-3 July the conference ‘Shaping the Future: new perspectives on Dutch cooperation in post-secondary education and training for sustainable development’ took place in The Hague. The conference was organised by Nuffic on behalf of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss directions and perspectives for the design of new Dutch programmes for cooperation in post-secondary education and training. The conference had an international attendance of about 170 participants with representations from ministries, education institutions, private sector organisations and programme administrating organisations. The proceedings of the conference are now available online.

The discussions in the conference were based on four major inputs: 1) the current Dutch development cooperation policy framework; 2) the just completed external evaluations of the Dutch capacity development programmes NFP, NPT and NICHE; 3) a study conducted by Nuffic to assess the motivation of Dutch organizations to participate in the Dutch programmes; and, 4) global trends in higher education, development cooperation and capacity development programmes. These inputs can all be accessed on the conference website.


Dutch development cooperation policy

In October 2010 a major change in Dutch development cooperation policy took place. Economic growth in developing countries is now at the heart of the Dutch agenda for international cooperation, with greater use being made of Dutch knowhow, including business-sector expertise. Public-Private Partnerships business instruments and economic diplomacy are believed to lead to successes in both commercial profit and poverty reduction. A larger proportion of the development budget will be spent on instruments of this kind. The policy also aims to assist fewer partner countries while focusing on four bilateral development spearhead areas – security and the legal order, water, food security, and sexual and reproductive health and rights – in which the Netherlands can add special value.

The change of the Dutch development cooperation policy has implications for current and future capacity development programmes. This was one of the main topics of discussion during the conference. In accordance with the new policy directives, the activities of the NFP and NICHE and successor programmes will have to focus on the selected partner countries. The programmes are expected to contribute to the four spearhead areas, either exclusively or predominantly. The link between programme activities and economic development has to be made explicit. Partnerships between education and private sector need to be explored and utilised.


Positive evaluations

On the basis of the largely positive outcomes of the external evaluations of the NFP, NPT and NICHE programmes the Netherlands Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr Ben Knapen, recognised the positive contributions of these programmes to meet development goals. The programmes are very relevant for the needs of developing countries and organisations, they support the development of motivated professionals and organisational capacities, but they also have a broader impact. This is what makes these programmes worth keeping.

For Dutch organisations involved in these programmes, the interests in these programmes clearly go beyond specific development cooperation objectives. Receiving international students is important to them to internationalise their education, to improve their academic profile, to benefit from talented research candidates and to obtain extra financial resources. The universities would like to collaborate with partners to broaden their academic network, to establish joint education programmes, to do joint research, and to enable the exchange of students and staff.  A restriction in the number of partners countries and cooperation areas is not in their interest. For non-education organisations who participate in NPT and NICHE and render technical assistance, the programmes provide interesting opportunities to market their expertise.


Suggestions from stakeholders

The suggestions which Dutch organizations made for the future programmes correspond with these interests: more fellowships, no  rigid restriction on countries and themes, more room for academic partnerships in the cooperation programmes, more flexibility in programme modalities and possibilities for longer term cooperation.

The representatives from Southern organisations made it clear that they would like to be involved as partners in the programmes. The key principle should be that cooperation takes place on the basis of equality, with benefits for all parties involved and with each party is bringing in its own contribution. Although the relationship will probably not be balanced in monetary terms, the South is ready and willing to contribute in kind (e.g. making available intellectual capacity, local expertise and staff time). The South has a lot to offer and is ready to do so.

There was a general agreement that capacity development in terms of staff training or education provision should be closely linked to demands of the labour market in the partner countries and contribute to economic development. In this context it is important that employers in government and in the private sector are closely involved in the planning and implementation of capacity development programmes. This may have implications for the content of the collaborations as well as funding arrangements.

The Proceedings contain a full account of the discussions which took place during the various sessions in the conference and the wide variety of suggestions that were made.


An interesting challenge

It will be a challenge for the new programmes to satisfy the interests and wishes of the various stakeholders, to combine development priorities with academic ambitions and private sector needs. However, it is clear that these stakeholders will have to work together to make the programmes successful.

A shorter version of this text was published on the Nuffic Blog.

Ad Boeren is a Senior Policy Officer at Nuffic. Email:

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