Agreement on the future of Belgian development cooperation: impacts for VLIR-UOS
After months of negotiations an agreement has been reached between minister Alexander De Croo and the Belgian non-governmental development cooperation actors, including VLIR-UOS. The basic principle is: from 2017 more mutual cooperation and common strategic frameworks in a limited number of countries.
In September 2015 the Actors in Non-Governmental Cooperation (ANGCs) and federal minister for development cooperation Alexander De Croo reached agreement on the conditions for funding development cooperation from 2017. This fits in with the minister’s ambition to improve and increase cooperation between all Belgian development cooperation actors, while also enhancing their mutual coherence, complementarity and synergy in order to optimise impact.
With this agreement Belgium follows the current international trend of greater concentration, focus on results and impact. It is the ambition of VLIR-UOS to further strengthen the university cooperation for development in coming years based on this principle.
Which actors are involved?
These are non-governmental actors that receive funding from the federal budget for development cooperation, such as NGOs, unions, migrant organisations, the Institute for Tropical Medicine, the education actors VVOB and APEFE, the associations of cities and municipalities, and the Flemish and French-speaking university umbrella organisations VLIR-UOS and ARES-CCD.
What will change?
- The cooperation country list from 2017
- The type of cooperation: geared by country, among Belgian actors, based on shared strategies
- Five-year plans with financial security for five years
- Administrative simplification
- Possible savings
What will be maintained?
- The free right of initiative of the Flemish universities and university colleges to choose their own partners and draw up, select and implement their own project proposals.
Is it a good agreement?
Paul Janssen, chair of UOS Bureau, feels this accord is an acceptable, workable compromise: ‘Because over the past three years we have had to stave off a great many threats. And there was a lot at stake now at the start of the negotiations. For months we have fought for a guarantee that we will be able to continue to cooperate with our main partner countries in the future, based on a free right of initiative for the Flemish universities and university colleges. We were successful. The specificity and added value of higher education development cooperation have been recognised. However, the announced saving continues to be something that requires special attention.’
‘University development cooperation will be situated within the new scope, with the creation of multi-actor projects forming a fascinating challenge. Such reform demands a change of mentality and so time. The government is aware of this and accordingly considers the first five-year period as a pilot. The new cooperation arrangements will only become clear from 2022 after testing and any fine-tuning.’
Overview of what will change
A new country list from 2017
From 2017 the Belgian non-governmental development actors (ANGC) are permitted to continue their activities in the 14 partner countries of the Belgian Development Cooperation and Belgium, and 17 additional countries, including the ‘decent work’ theme.
Bilateral partner countries (14 + 1)
- Burkina Faso
- DR Congo
ANGC countries / Common Strategic Frameworks (18)
- South Africa
- Decent Work
Which country list will VLIR-UOS use from 2017?
By the end of 2015 the Bureau of VLIR-UOS will decide which countries in the above list VLIR-UOS will continue to work with in the future. The intention is to retain at least those countries for which VLIR-UOS has already developed a country strategy. These are DR Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Morocco, Cuba, Suriname, India, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Vietnam.
Is cooperation with the countries that are not yet on the list possible?
Cooperation with countries that are not on the country list is possible to a limited degree. All Belgian non-governmental development actors combined must spend 90% of their budget in the above countries/themes. For each individual organisation, such as VLIR-UOS, this is at least 75%.
As a rule, the remaining 10% can be used for projects in the larger OECD-DAC country list. However, the criteria employed by the government to approve projects within this remaining 10% will be significantly tougher. It is down to the Bureau of VLIR-UOS to decide how this is tackled.
The type of cooperation: more geared to other Belgian actors
From now on the projects will come about through structural consultation by country among Belgian actors and their partners in the specific country. That optimises the coherence between individual projects, as they are based on a shared strategy. It will be easier for the actors to share information and experiences and begin cooperating through country platforms.
The Belgian non-governmental development actors will develop a Common Strategic Framework (CSF) for the 32 countries (including Belgium) and the “Decent Work” theme. A Common Strategic Framework comprises a context analysis and a description of what will be done in practice in each country, individually by actor and jointly, each with a justification for the respective type of execution. The political dialogue with the government will be based on this framework.
For the period 2017-2021 the government allows no more than 33 Common Strategy Frameworks; this maximum number then drops to 30.
Decent Work is the only theme included on the CSF list. Trade unions in particular will be active in this theme.
The placement in the shared strategy per country and the links between North and South actions will be important selection and evaluation criteria for both South projects and the intervention types in Belgium.
Five-year plans with financial security for five years
Until now VLIR-UOS has worked on the basis of annual funding and year programmes. The fact that from now on we have to plan five years in advance will change how we work:
- No later than the beginning of 2016 we will launch calls for most intervention types, so that we are able to select and establish the majority of the new projects for the five-year period 2017-2021 by mid-2016. Planning five years in advance is not easy, but once approved this way of working provides financial security for five years.
- We will launch new calls during the term of the five-year programme. Our aim in doing so is to cater to the academic dynamics and the changing of PhD generations.
- A budget will be established for each country, spread over the five budget years. Most calls will be based on the respective VLIR-UOS country strategies and the Common Strategic Framework of the Belgian non-governmental development actors.
VLIR-UOS will submit a five-year programme (2017-2021) to the federal administration Development Cooperation (DGD) in mid-2016. In that programme we will give summary of the projects and scholarships (for information purposes) for the period in question. We will also include the ongoing Institutional University Cooperation (IUC) programmes. The ongoing TEAM projects can be completed as planned.
The eligibility for government funding from 2017 of all ANGCs, and that includes VLIR-UOS, will be screened by the end of 2015. DGD will make the management system more flexible from 2017 and simplify the administration. The focus will be on managing risks and reporting results rather than reporting activities.
The budget: 8.5% saving from 2017
In exchange for this far-reaching reform, minister De Croo is prepared to limit the original saving of 21% to 8.5% for indirect cooperation. This is obviously subject to general rises and falls in the federal budget, but the minister in any case intends to vigorously defend our budget. If a linear saving split over all actors is chosen, that would mean a saving for VLIR-UOS of approximately EUR 2 million per year.