UK Reveals £45 Million Plan to Promote Gender Equality in Education

SHEFE is designed to benefit approximately one million young people by enhancing their educational and employment prospects.

A groundbreaking £45 million initiative to support higher education opportunities for youth, with a focus on women and girls, was unveiled by UK Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell at the Education World Forum 2024.

The new program, titled Strengthening Higher Education for Female Empowerment (SHEFE), seeks to forge crucial partnerships across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

SHEFE is designed to benefit approximately one million young people by enhancing their educational and employment prospects. The UK government emphasized that the program’s mission is to create safer, more inclusive learning environments for women and girls, thereby dismantling the barriers that prevent them from pursuing higher education and realizing their potential as future leaders.

Key components of the SHEFE initiative include:

  • Reducing Gender-Based Violence: The program will invest in training staff and students to combat gender-based violence, while also strengthening institutional policies to protect women and girls.
  • Promoting STEM and Leadership: SHEFE aims to boost the participation of women in STEM fields and senior academic roles. It also seeks to improve university curricula through collaboration with industry and government, ensuring that education aligns with labor market demands.
  • Enhancing Research on Gender Equality: The initiative will support research on gender equality, violence prevention, and employability, providing partner governments and higher education institutions with evidence-based strategies for progress.

“Greater gender equality brings freedom, boosts prosperity, and strengthens global security. Countries cannot develop if half the population is held back from fulfilling their full potential,” stated Mitchell.

“The UK is committed to ensuring that the next generation of female teachers, doctors, inventors, and leaders can thrive without being impeded by gender bias and discrimination. Education is the cornerstone of empowerment, equipping women and girls with the knowledge to challenge harmful norms and make informed decisions about their lives and health.”

Mitchell highlighted the success of the Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform program, which commenced in 2016 and significantly strengthened higher education across 16 countries. Over one million students benefitted from this program, including direct support to 12,500 refugees and displaced young people in Jordan and Lebanon, and 12,000 students from Myanmar who gained access to online courses.

On the opening day of the Education World Forum, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, addressed global ministers, underscoring the UK’s status as a premier destination for international students. She also discussed the expanding role of transnational education (TNE) in making British higher education accessible worldwide.

“We are home to some of the world’s top universities, benefiting from strong international ties. The UK has educated 58 current and recent world leaders, and we have four universities in the global top 10 and 17 in the top 100. Students from over 200 nations come to study here, and our universities lead the G7 in impactful research publications,” said Keegan.

Keegan emphasized that attracting international students is beneficial for UK universities and increases opportunities for domestic students. She highlighted TNE as a crucial solution, allowing students to obtain UK degrees without leaving their home countries. In 2021/22, 160 UK universities delivered TNE to over 550,000 students in more than 200 countries and territories.

“Transnational education is successfully unlocking the global potential of British institutions, providing broader access to educational opportunities,” Keegan noted.

In her speech, Keegan also addressed the urgent challenge of climate change, stressing the need for education to foster a comprehensive understanding of sustainable futures. She pointed out that 50% of national curricula worldwide do not include climate change, and only 20% of teachers can adequately explain how to address it.

“We need to create collaborative mindsets and integrate critical thinking into our curriculum,” echoed Yousef bin Abdullah Al-Benyan, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education, in response to the highlighted challenges.

The Education World Forum 2024 thus spotlighted the UK’s dedication to advancing global education, particularly in empowering women and girls, and highlighted the importance of addressing contemporary issues such as gender equality and climate change through education.