Increasing access to work-relevant higher education in Malawi

A $10M collaboration with five Malawian public universities increases educational opportunities for girls, young women and the disadvantaged.

 Project title 
Strengthening Higher Education Access in Malawi Activity (SHEAMA)

 Award amount 

 Grant effective dates 
December 4, 2018December 3, 2022

 Principal investigator(s) 
Samuel DiGangi

 Direct sponsor 
U.S. Agency for International Development

The challenge

In Malawi, a nation of nearly 20 million in southeast Africa, more than 80,000 students graduate from secondary schools each year with no access to higher education. Multiple impediments are responsible for this lack of opportunity, including systemic societal barriers that confront females and students with disadvantages; the latter including orphans, persons with disabilities and students from rural areas served by an inadequate system of poorly resourced community schools. Similarly, institutions and stakeholders in the economy have significant capacity challenges to overcome. Malawi’s higher education system suffers from low levels of enrollment and technical capacity. University institutions and on-demand learning programs are not adequately adapted to Malawi’s market dynamics, and existing ODL centers are limited in reach. As a result, vulnerable groups do not adequately participate in higher education and are underrepresented in meaningful employment areas. For the nation, this means limited resources and a nonequitable workforce that are unable to sustain economic growth.

The approach

Funded by USAID, the Strengthening Higher Education Access in Malawi Activity is increasing Malawi's skilled and employable workforce — particularly through opportunities for adolescent girls and young women — by strengthening capacity and fostering collaboration among four Malawian public universities: Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Malawi University of Science and Technology, Mzuzu University and University of Malawi. In Year 1 of the project, through close collaboration with the National Council for Higher Education and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, SHEAMA secured an agreement among the university partners to codevelop and share courses and learning materials in a jointly managed system of open, distance and e-learning centers located throughout the country, thus serving more students and reducing the cost of attaining a degree. The agreement also creates mechanisms to codesign courses and programs with industry for better alignment with Malawi’s market needs. Year 1 also brought institutional readiness assessments; learning center instructional design workshops for faculty; first-round scholarships for female students from disadvantaged groups to study STEM subjects; and education and employment advisory boards formed in each of six target districts.