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Women and girls across Africa, Asia and Middle East to benefit from new UK higher education programme

Andrew Mitchell.

By Hannah Dadzie

UK Deputy Foreign Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, has announced an ambitious £45 million higher education programme at the Education World Forum to deliver a better future for young people, particularly women and girls. 

The new £45 million programme will create safer and more accessible learning environments for women and girls to remove barriers preventing the next generation of leaders from enrolling in higher education. The Higher Education programme aims to benefit 1 million young people, improving their opportunities and employability.  

Strengthening Higher Education for Female Empowerment (SHEFE), will bring together businesses, universities and governments to form 12 partnerships across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. 

The Deputy Foreign Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, will announce the UK investment in his keynote speech to over 100 education Ministers from around the world at the Education World Forum on Monday, May 20. The new UK programme aims to increase access to higher education for 1 million students worldwide, supporting women and girls to transform their lives and unlock their potential. 

Deputy Foreign Secretary and Minister for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, said greater gender equality brings freedom, boosts prosperity, and strengthens global security. He said countries cannot develop if half the population is held back from fulfilling their full potential.  

“The UK is ensuring that the next generation of female teachers, doctors, inventors and leaders can unlock their potential without being held back by gender bias and discrimination,” Mr Mitchell indicated.

The Deputy Foreign Secretary said Education is the foundation for empowerment and it equips women and girls with the knowledge to challenge harmful norms and make informed decisions, including about their health.

The Strengthening Higher Education for Female Empowerment (SHEFE) programme will bring together businesses, universities, and governments to create 12 partnerships, which will tackle the obstacles that stand in the way of women and girls seeking further education, including creating safer learning environments and improving the quality of higher education.

Girls who benefit from higher education are up to six times less likely to marry as children and are less likely to experience violence from a partner. Women who have advanced levels of learning also increase their earnings. However, for many women who want to attend university, widespread sexual harassment and violence are barriers. 

The programme will support women and girls by:  

  • Investing in initiatives that reduce gender-based violence, for example, by training staff and students and strengthening institutional policies to protect them; 
  • Helping to increase uptake of STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects and female representation in senior academic positions, as well as improving the quality of university curriculum by co-designing with industry and government to meet labour market needs; 
  • Strengthening research on gender equality, violence prevention and employability, to support partner governments and Higher Education institutions to develop evidence-based approaches. 

Unlocking the potential of women and girls through education is a key priority for the UK, as it ensures that all students can live, work, and study in a safe environment. Since 2015, the UK has supported nearly 20 million children, half of which are girls, to gain a decent education.  

This new initiative builds on the success of the Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme that began in 2016 and used dynamic partnerships to strengthen higher education in 16 countries. Over 1 million students benefitted, including direct support to 12,500 refugees and displaced young people in Jordan and Lebanon and 12,000 students from Myanmar with access to online courses. 

 Further Information

  • This new £45 million programme, Strengthening Higher Education for Female Empowerment (SHEFE) will support the reform of higher education systems and bring businesses, universities and government together across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa through the creation of 12 impactful partnerships. 
  • This new programme builds on the previous six-year Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme.

·The announcement today builds on the UK’s commitment at last year’s Education World Forum, which launched a programme to improve the reading and math skills of 100,000 women and girls in Southeast Asia.

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