Higher Education for Development (HED) faces a possible 80 percent reduction in its operating budget, which could force it to close out its grant programs prematurely. HED, which manages development-oriented partnerships between American universities and institutions abroad as a subcontractor of sorts for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was informed by the agency via an August 7 e-mail that its operating budget for the fiscal year starting October 1 will be just $1 million – a drop from $4.9 million this current year.
“We said at that level we close everything down by the middle of December and it will be utter chaos,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs for the American Council on Education, which oversees HED. “They [U.S.A.I.D.] said that’s not what we had in mind; we need to think about another way to do this.”
For its part U.S.A.I.D. said in a statement that "discussions with ACE/HED regarding programming and budget levels are ongoing at this time, and no final decisions have been made. U.S.A.I.D. is highly committed to increasing our engagement with higher education institutions to harness their intellectual energies, research capabilities, community connections, and capacity building expertise to address the toughest development challenges."
Hartle said that ACE and HED have not received anything in writing about the budget since the August 7 e-mail. He said that in discussions U.S.A.I.D. has been very clear that it does not want to force the end of any partnerships prematurely. "They'd like to have the partnerships run, but they would like to not have to pay the cost of having them monitored and evaluated according to the U.S.A.I.D. standards that they have dictated," he said.
He added that the problem seems to stem from the fact that U.S.A.I.D. wants to move away from the model of having HED and other similar entities function as middlemen in awarding, managing and evaluating government grants. That’s fine, Hartle said: “Government agencies change priorities; they change directions. But what is so surprising is that they would do this so close to the start of a fiscal year without recognizing the serious consequences of taking such a step."
HED currently administers $50 million in grants, managing 41 partnerships in 25 countries involving 93 institutions. Its portfolio of projects, present and past, can be found here.