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University Development

In 1961 the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) undertook the University Development Program (UDP), later named the Education for Development Program (EFD). The program lasted until 1983 and helped to support fifteen universities in developing countries around the world.

Attacking the University Problem

The UDP’s main objective was “to help create strong universities recognized as centers of excellence, largely staffed by indigenous scholars, and engaged in teaching and research relevant to national and regional needs.”[1] Unlike previous RF university grants which were typically given to specific departments, UDP resources supported university-wide initiatives. Writing on problems and solutions for developing nations as early as 1956, Norman S. Buchanan, Director for the Social Sciences, noted that while assistance to specially selected university departments may have worked well in North America and Europe, the same approach would not suffice in the developing world. Instead, he argued for a “larger, more integrated attack on the university problem as a whole in place of the pin-pointed attack forward from a generally solid front.”[2] Although this more general support may have been new, UDP grants still focused on key areas of RF interest, including agriculture, health and the social sciences, but new areas were also added, including support to confront systemic problems in university administration and finance.

Collecting soil samples at University of Philippines College of Agriculture, Los Baños (Philippines)

Collecting soil samples at University of Philippines College of Agriculture, Los Baños (Philippines)

Recipient universities were also expected to be actively engaged with their own development. The RF adapted a long-term approach to problems through the UDP, and the Foundation expected a matching commitment from foreign governments and university administrations. RF President J. George Harrar wrote of this relationship in 1961 that, “[t]he Foundation’s role will be one directed toward helping the universities achieve their own aspirations in terms of national needs defined and directed by their own leadership. In each center, there must be strong desire on the part of the university authorities to progress toward the goals which they themselves have established and continuing effort on their part to generate increasing local support and to merit assistance from external sources.”[3]

In the UDP the RF saw an opportunity to create a niche for the organization in the post-colonial world. While other international organizations and national governments concentrated on the immediate needs of the developing world, the RF committed to projects that would reap benefits in the decades to come. As articulated in 1956: “RF’s resources do not allow it to compete with these large-scale programs of other agencies. But could it not perform a singularly important role in development if it were to bring a few universities in these countries to a level of excellence? If RF could do this the consequences for human well-being would be exceedingly large.”[4]

Survey and Selection

The RF selected schools to receive UDP funding by conducting surveys throughout the summer of 1961. RF officers surveyed universities in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Most of these institutions had received prior funding from the RF, a factor that weighed heavily in the Foundation’s decisions. Chief among the Foundation’s selection criteria were strong university leadership, a dynamic environment receptive to change, and an ability to function as a regional or national center capable of diffusing knowledge. Among the first universities chosen to participate in UDP were the: Universidad of Chile, Universidad del Valle in Colombia, University College in Nigeria, University College of East Africa, and the University of the Philippines. The program was later expanded to include additional universities.

Library facilities at the University of Valle, Cali (Colombia) 1965

Library facilities at the University of Valle, Cali (Colombia) 1965

“Risks for Good Cause”

Working in newly emerging or developing nations carried risks, and RF officers understood the potential pitfalls presented by the UDP. As described in the 1961 program proposal: “This risk is concerned principally with the possibility that changes in local political attitudes could make it difficult if not impossible for the Foundation to pursue one or another of these projects to its logical conclusion.”[5] The Foundation’s experience in Zaire perfectly illustrated these concerns. Yet the RF forged ahead with the program, noting, “The officers are aware of this contingency, but believe that the Foundation should not ignore great opportunities for contributions to human welfare because of the risk involved. The Foundation has always been willing to accept risks for a good cause …“[6]  

After final grants in Brazil and Indonesia in 1983, the EFD formally ended. In that year’s annual report, the RF expressed its belief that the goals of the program had been “largely realized” and went on to note that, “[w]ith the conclusion of the EFD program, the Foundation has completed a two decade contribution to the development of advanced educational capacity in several developing countries. Throughout the developing countries, excellent and mature universities now exist that no longer require the type of generalized institutional support that has been characteristic of the EFD program.”[7]  The RF continued funding education projects related to agriculture, health and population management before returning to higher education in 2000.

Partnership for Higher Education in Africa

The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa was established in 2000 as a collaborative effort between the Rockefeller, Ford, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations and the Carnegie Corporation.  These organizations were later joined by the William and Flora Hewlett, Andrew W. Mellon and Kresge Foundations. Over its ten-year life-span the partnership members sought to foster change in institutions of higher learning located in African nations undergoing economic and political reforms at the start of the new millennium. These countries included Egypt, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

Some key partnership goals included:

  1. Increasing access to technology
  2. Diversifying student populations
  3. Fostering new talent and ideas
  4. Creating skills for national development
  5. Strengthening university management[8]

This program mirrored many of the goals of the RF’s earlier programs in university development, and like those programs, The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa also had its share of successes and failures. While the partners achieved more working together that they might have separately, collaboration did not always run smoothly. At times there were failures of communication and a lack of collaboration between the partner philanthropies. Several partners changed leadership during the partnership, and new leaders did not necessarily share their predecessors’ commitment to the program.[9] The partnership, however, succeeded in contributing a half billion dollars toward the improvement of African universities, helping to strengthen many university administrations and especially to improve technology. Primary among these initiatives was the Bandwidth Consortium which substantially lowered the costs of internet service for African universities.[10]

[1] Ralph K. Davidson, “Evolution of the Foundation’s University Development Program” November 1972, Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), RG 3.2, Series 900, Box 63, Folder 350.

[2] Norman S. Buchanan, “A Note on RF Program for the Underdeveloped Areas” January 3, 1956, RAC, RG 3.2, Series 900, Box 63, Folder 349.

[3] J. George Harrar, “Proposed University Development Program” November 13, 1961, RAC, RG 3.2, Series 900, Box 63, Folder 349.

[4] Buchanan.

[5] Harrar.

[6] Harrar.

[7] The Rockefeller Foundation, Annual Report 1983 (New York: The Rockefeller Foundation, 1983) 29-30. (Link to PDF on Rockefeller Foundation Website)

[8] Susan Parker, Lessons from a Ten-Year Funder Collaborative: A Case Study of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (Clear Thinking Communications, 2010) 15.

[9] Parker, 30-35.

[10] Parker, 5-6.