March 7, 2011
RTI International to Strengthen Liberian Workforce Through New Project in Higher Education
To assist Liberia in equipping its young women and men for professional careers as leaders, managers, extension agents, researchers, and small business owners in agriculture and engineering, RTI International will implement the Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Since the country's peaceful elections in 2005, private investors and overseas Liberians have returned to invest in the country. After almost two decades of conflict that nearly destroyed the entire education system, company managers, farmers, government officials, and donor representatives point to Liberia's critical need for improved education, skills, and labor force capacity as the principal challenge to sustaining the momentum of development.
EHELD will work through 2016 to build practical, experience-based, and labor market-aligned educational and research programs to prepare skilled professionals and help university faculty address the challenges of economic and infrastructure development. The nearly $20 million program will allow RTI and partners to develop centers of excellence at two universities that will supply skilled Liberian graduates in engineering and agriculture who are qualified to meet current and future workforce demand in the private, NGO, and public sectors.
To achieve the vision of EHELD, RTI is collaborating with a number of partners to create a team with the complete array of skills and experience necessary to implement the project. The team includes the University of Michigan, Rutgers University, North Carolina State University, and Associates in Rural Development. The team will also utilize regional universities such as the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana as resources.
"While Liberia continues to face serious challenges as it emerges from two decades of war, Liberians are ready for relief to give way to development," according to Nathaniel Bowditch, the project's director. "EHELD is taking a step in that direction as we work to prepare a workforce ready for the next stages of growth in infrastructure building and agricultural productivity."
The program focuses on building local capacity at all levels of the two partner institutions—Cuttington University and the University of Liberia—and places a priority on gender issues and creating inclusive programming for women and girls while developing lasting, relevant, and sustainable institutions.
Attracting qualified students, particularly girls, into the engineering and agriculture programs poses a problem. To address this, the project will launch programs to raise awareness and recruit students through radio programming and secondary and primary school programs. Summer Start, for example, will partner Liberian students from the centers of excellence with faculty and students from the University of Michigan each summer to implement intensive sessions for Liberian 10th, 11th, and 12th graders to engage students in science education.
EHELD will also focus on strengthening the capacity of faculty at the universities through extensive degree training programs as well as short courses and mentoring in areas such as curriculum development, pedagogical techniques, use of computers, recordkeeping and fiscal management, applied research, grant writing, and monitoring and evaluation.
EHELD is committed to attracting and retaining the most qualified students, so the project will offer extensive support to students, including career services, library and computer resources, service learning opportunities, and internships.
"By the end of the program, high-performing graduates from the centers of excellence will be far better prepared to respond to the economic and development challenges facing Liberia as it rebuilds its economy, physical infrastructure, social structure, and government institutions," said Bowditch. "EHELD will also have developed a model for the restoration of higher education that can be replicated throughout Liberia."