Career and Life Trajectories of African Alumni of International Universities (African Alumni Study) was launched at the University of California, Berkeley, in December 2013 as a two year retrospective tracer research project with seven universities. Six of the seven partner universities are also participating in The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program (MCFSP). Partner sub-Saharan African Alumni will be invited to participate in the study through a web-based survey (Fall 2014) and subsequent in-depth semi-structured in-person (or virtual) interviews. The Study also presents a number of opportunities to connect and re-engage with our African Alumni for on-going benefits.

Goals & Contributions

The first, and potentially most important, contribution of this study lies in it’s commitment to systematically collect primary data on the career and life trajectories of Sub-Saharan African alumni from partner universities. Through concerted tracing efforts and a mixed methods research approach this project will document the career choices and life courses of hundreds of African Alumni. The lack of basic information about this population, and reliance on anecdotal evidence, have hampered efforts at addressing pertinent scholarly debates and setting programming and policy priorities. Furthermore, developing current contact information with African alumni will not only enable participation in the current study, but also reconnection and engagement in the long-term.

The primary data collected in this project will be particularly relevant to the large body of literature in area studies and development economics on the socio-economic benefits and costs of out-migration by highly educated nationals from developing countries. This is commonly known as “brain drain”, with clear benefits for host countries and more mixed and lesser-known consequences for sending countries. Research on the global migration of talent by Kapur and McHale of the Center for Global Development highlights the potential negative consequences of “brain drain” for institutional development in sending states, especially small, developing countries. On the positive side, “brain circulation” refers to the growing investments by diaspora communities in science, technology, education and business in their countries of origin, as well as evidence of a growing number of “return” emigrants. As our sample of graduates of international universities will include substantial numbers of students who returned, and others who stayed, the survey and narrative interviews offer an outstanding opportunity to begin to identify causal factors explaining these decisions.

University partners in the African Alumni Study also stand to benefit from this project through renewed and deeper connections with a previously under-engaged demographic (sub-Saharan Africans) that are often missed by traditional outreach methods. Once identified, these individuals may provide new possibilities for purposes of alumni networking or development. Investments in tracking and tracing may also provide benefits for the student populations at large, as verified alumni contacts in Africa provide a bridge to realize the ambition of many non-African students to intern, volunteer, or work on the continent. The results generated by this project have the potential to aid all universities in their efforts to recruit, retain, and stay connected with African students and alumni.

This research project was conceived and designed to be closely linked with The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, which currently administers the single largest scholarship program for African students. MasterCard Foundation Scholars (2012-2020) studying at our campuses are recruited for their high academic achievement and aspirations to “give back” and return, post-graduation, to their communities. These African Scholars will find the study results directly applicable to their international education experiences and post-graduation transitions as it illuminates the ways in which previous African students have navigated these transitions and employed their international education to realize their professional and personal goals. The African Alumni Study will also facilitate mutually beneficial mentoring opportunities among MasterCard Foundation Scholars, other African students, and African Alumni.

Research Questions

As we study the career and life paths of graduates from Sub-Saharan Africa, our central and most broad question is: What are the experiences of African alumni of international higher education institutions after graduation? The limited extent of prior scholarship on this topic necessitates, as a first step in addressing this or any related questions, the systematic collection of primary data through tracing, surveys, and qualitative interviews. There are two additional outcomes of interest around which we will structure our research. The first outcome is the decision (or multiple decisions) of graduates regarding return to their country of origin. Our second core outcome is the civic and social engagement of African alumni with their country of origin over time. The three basic research questions of the study are, therefore:

  • What are the post-graduation experiences of African alumni from international universities?
  • What are the factors that have influenced alumni decisions to return or not to their country of origin?
  • What are the factors that have influenced alumni decisions to prioritize meaningful civic and social engagement with their country of origin?

Please contact us to request the full Research Prospectus.