Designing Scholarship Programs for Diversity and Inclusion: Lessons from USAID/Egypt
Higher Education Scholarships in Action Blog Series
In connection with the launch of the USAID Higher Education Scholarships Toolkit and to help demonstrate the value and importance of USAID's higher education scholarships programs, the USAID Leading Through Learning Global Platform (LTLGP) interviewed USAID staff from two Missions (USAID/Egypt and USAID/Indonesia) and the Bureau for Global Health (GH). These interviews were edited into a webinar presentation to launch the USAID Higher Education Scholarships Toolkit.
This follow-up interview with Mary Ishak, Senior Project Management Specialist, and Samah Eid, Project Management Specialist with the Office of Education and Health from USAID/Egypt, captures their experiences designing scholarship programs with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
LTLGP: USAID/Egypt has an impressive history of supporting persons with disabilities in its higher education scholarship programming. How did you design your programming to ensure inclusivity? Did you encounter challenges, and if so, how did you overcome them?
USAID/Egypt: While much attention by development donors in the past has focused on the accessibility of primary and secondary education for students with disabilities, little to no attention has been given to enhancing access and opportunity in higher education.
In 2017, USAID conducted a Needs Assessment of Persons with Disabilities in Egyptian Public Universities and Regional Technical Colleges to understand the contexts and gaps persons with disabilities face in Egypt. One finding shows that students with disabilities seek protection against arbitrary decision-making and discriminatory treatment in admissions, accessing courses, and taking examinations.
To extend higher education opportunities to the most marginalized populations in Egypt, USAID designs scholarships with inclusion at the forefront, requiring gender parity, geographical diversity, and disability inclusion. For example, one of our scholarship activities expanded its work with persons with disabilities by establishing disability support centers at five Egyptian public universities to serve and empower students with disabilities in all university faculties. Another activity is required to recruit 10-15 percent of its scholars from students with disabilities.
As a result, our scholarship programs led to important policy changes around inclusion in higher education in Egypt. For example, due to USAID’s effective engagement on the issue, Egypt established Disability Centers in five public universities. Students with visual disabilities now have the opportunity to study in fields like commerce, which rely heavily on graphs and visual materials. These Disability Centers continue to establish and advocate for university-wide policies, procedures, and activities to ensure equal access to higher education for all Egyptians.
When designing for inclusion, it is crucial to coordinate with government partners to ensure local support and commitment. The Government of Egypt (GOE) has demonstrated a strong commitment to improving opportunities for students with disabilities to enter higher education and succeed. The GOE is emphasizing accessibility to institutions of higher education. For example, President el-Sisi’s April 26, 2017 declaration of 2018 as the Year of Persons with Disabilities provided further momentum and commitment to disability rights. It was through a direct request from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research that the Disability Centers activity received additional funding through USAID and will be replicated in up to 15 additional campuses.
LTLGP: How did your team provide holistic support to the students? How did the program support the students socially and emotionally as they adjusted to a new environment?
USAID/Egypt: Upon enrollment in the scholarship programs, students with disabilities receive special/tailored orientations, computer training, and English language classes. For example, students who are blind, partially sighted, or have low vision receive computer training that prepares them to use the Non Visual Desktop Access software to translate text to audio, facilitating the use of the computers. USAID scholarship programs continue support to students with disabilities during their academic studies by providing specialized training, equipment, and escorts as needed. In addition, special well-being programs are provided to students with disabilities and others to facilitate ways of understanding challenges and how they can better support their colleagues at university.
LTLGP: USAID/Egypt scholarships have a strict gender requirement and require recipients to represent the 27 Egyptian governorates. Can you elaborate on the importance of these guidelines?
USAID/Egypt: To extend higher education opportunities to the most marginalized populations in Egypt, USAID designs scholarships with inclusion at the forefront, requiring gender parity, geographical diversity, and disability inclusion. For example:
- There is a strict gender balance requirement for most USAID scholarships, where 50 percent of scholarship recipients must be women.
- Geographical diversity is an important component of the scholarship program, and scholarships must have student representation from every governorate in Egypt. Ideally, there is at least one man and one woman representative from each governorate.
- USAID requires that all students come from economically marginalized families. USAID works with implementing partners to help establish selection processes that accurately identify the students with the highest levels of need. Examples include financial disclosure forms in the scholarship application—which require copies of electric, water, and Internet bills, in addition to parental pay stubs—and in-person visits by the implementing partner to applicant homes.
LTLGP: What advice or tips would you provide to future scholarship programs to ensure diversity and inclusion as a pillar principle?
USAID/Egypt: Key tips and/or advice include:
- Design more inclusive activities with different components that target having greater numbers of women and students with disabilities.
- Engage directly with recipients’ families through occasional events, particularly informational events. This builds trust between the student’s legal guardians and the implementing partner, and has particularly positive impacts for women applicants and those with disabilities.
- Tailor support programs for students with disabilities to fulfill their academic needs. These programs help remove barriers to students with disabilities’ access to education. Creating opportunities for all to participate in different activities, equitably, gives them confidence and experience that helps them post-graduation.
- Ensure that all students have access to mental health support whenever needed, either through their university, medical insurance, or activity-sponsored professional staff.
- Establish successful partnerships with the private sector to provide internships and employment opportunities for students with disabilities.
- Include gender educational workshops for all students to help change socially inherited concepts.
- Work closely with the private sector in improving the work environment to better support women and foster more employment opportunities for women graduates.
Learn more about USAID/Egypt’s scholarship programs in this video interview with Ishak and Eid.
To learn more about designing scholarship programming for diversity and inclusion, visit the good practices brief on this topic, Intentionally Designing USAID Scholarship Programming for Inclusion. Building on successes and lessons learned across activities and regions and supported by evidence drawn from academic knowledge on diversity, equity, and inclusion, this brief highlights promising approaches to student recruitment and student support in USAID and non-USAID scholarship programming.