One Year in Higher Education, Five Activities to Keep Learning From
A Look Back at Higher Education Learning Network Highlights from 2023
In 2023, the USAID Leading Through Learning Global Platform’s Higher Education Learning Network (HELN) brought together the higher education community across professional levels, sectors, and regions to build global knowledge and expertise through collaborative events, resources, and discussions.
Here are five HELN accomplishments from the last year, chosen by our staff and members.
1. Sharing Failure to Surface Learning
The HELN recognizes the value of failure in learning. Accordingly, 2023 marked the second year of the annual #FailFest, focused on employability. The event gave voice to a myriad of different perspectives on higher education’s role in supporting students’ journeys from learner to earner. Presenters in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East shared obstacles from their work advancing employability programs. The event’s 98 attendees discussed real-world failures and implementation challenges openly, providing insights into avoiding these pitfalls in the future. This year, the HELN’s 2024 #FailFest will focus on learner-centered higher education, and we’re already forming the agenda. Keep an eye out for information on how to participate in the coming months.
2. Capturing Stories of Resilience
In 2023, the HELN hosted a series of events to kick-start conversations with HELN members on ways higher education can be resilient in the face of conflict and authoritarian influences. HELN members surfaced personal and professional experiences and good practices that support higher education when social and political contexts severely limit higher education activities. One important thing we learned from participants is context is key in determining responses to threats imposed by state or non-state actors on higher education institutions.
3. Creating Spaces for Local Adaptation
When USAID released the Primer on Expanding Women’s Access to Higher Education, members requested examples and evidence focused on Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and Africa. In response, the HELN led a learning series focused on equitable access to higher education, featuring speakers from LAC and Africa and discussion of innovative programs from those contexts. That event paved the way for a new localized resource co-created with HELN members that builds on the earlier primer. The brief focuses on factors that inhibit or support women’s access to higher education in LAC and Africa to help bring promising practices to a global audience. Features that members in both regions agreed help women access and succeed in higher education include career guidance and mentoring, scholarships, and distance education programs.
4. Celebrating Milestones
In 2023, the HELN celebrated its first full year since the network was launched by USAID in May 2022. We marked the moment with a three-week virtual Higher Education Global Evidence Summit focused on innovation, employability, private sector engagement, and crisis, conflict, and democracy. One recurring theme is the central role higher education plays as a local actor in development, investing in strengthening higher education systems, and engaging the higher education community to address global challenges. Highlights from this monumental event are captured in a compilation video created in collaboration with the Leading Through Learning LAC Regional Hub.
5. Facilitating New Connections
Throughout the last year, we’ve held networking events designed to give HELN members chances to meet and connect with each other around important topics in higher education and international development. In February, over 70 people attended a HELN networking event to reflect on equitable access to higher education. In July, members gathered again to exchange ideas on higher education programming in crisis and conflict. Attendees of these events have gone on to contribute to our learning products, join the HELN Steering Group, and collaborate on new projects.
Jennifer Lebron, the Learning Network Leader for the HELN, noted, “HELN staff love the opportunity to meet new members who are working to innovate and enhance higher education’s unique role in international development. Our networking events give members opportunities to meet each other and find ways to share and learn together.”
What are your favorite HELN activities from 2023? Share your answers with the HELN Member Discussion group on LinkedIn.
If you are not yet a member of the HELN, join here to receive updates on future events and activities.