Robin Marsh
Robin Marsh (lead researcher) and Sidee Dlamini (MCF Scholar and GSR) at Asante Africa event

The Study on sub-Saharan African Alumni (PARIS) was officially launched during a two-day workshop held last December at UC Berkeley with participants from seven universities – University of Toronto, McGill, and Simon Frasier (Canada), Earth University (Costa Rica) and UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Arizona State University (USA).

Participants included faculty, administrators and graduate students with expertise in international education, institutional research, and African Studies.

Dr. Robin Marsh, lead researcher on the study, opened the workshop by noting the historic opportunity offered by this new research grant from The MasterCard Foundation (MCF), both to increase knowledge on the influences of international education on the careers and leadership positions of Berkeley and partner university alumni from the African continent, and to positively impact the experiences of current and future African scholars.

This includes the nearly 800 African scholars that will receive comprehensive scholarships from The MCF over the next ten years at the seven universities participating in this study.  All stand to gain from the results of this project as researchers learn from past sub-Saharan African graduates about their successes and challenges since graduation, and the diversity of connections and contributions they maintain with the African continent.

Professor Rosemary Joyce, Principal Investigator of the study, spoke to the keen interest of the Graduate Division in this project.  She urged participants to adopt a mixed methods framework that would shed light on the complex life paths taken by UC Berkeley and other partner university alumni from Africa.

“As global universities, what can we learn about our roles in building the capacities of our alumni to take on the serious challenges facing their countries of origin, and how might this knowledge improve our current strategies and investments in capacity-building?” Rosemary said.  “In the future, UC Berkeley may conduct similar studies on all international student populations.”

PARIS Scholars
MasterCard Foundation Scholars, (left to right) Lilian Kabelle (sophomore), Rukudzo Muyengwa(freshman), Temi O. Salako (sophomore) and Becky Mashaido (freshman).

PARIS is the first university-led project to systematically track the career and life trajectories of alumni from sub-Saharan African.  As MSU Sociologist and life-long African expert, David Wiley, stated at the end of the workshop “This is a project whose time has come.  Before we were not prepared.  Now we have a responsible and thoughtful group to lead the Study.”

Given the growing demographic significance of Africa and the dynamism of many of its economies, there is greater need and demand for quality higher education than ever.

Often faced with underfunded and underperforming domestic universities, many top African students pursue their higher education abroad.  Many have returned to their countries of origin to play leadership roles in government, academia and business.  Others have joined growing diasporas, primarily in North America and Europe.

During the two-day workshop, participants debated key questions that require further research: “What are the factors that lead African graduates of international universities to return or not to the African continent over time, and how does an international education influence these decisions?  How are African alumni socially and civically engaged with their countries of origin and how do levels of engagement and commitment change over time and space?”

The initial stage of PARIS study involves a substantial effort at “tracking” alumni and securing the information that will enable contact and their participation in the study.

GSR Sidee Dlamini, a Masters in Development Practice student and MasterCard Foundation Scholar from Swaziland, has a special interest in leading the tracking effort.  She believes that social media and personal networks of current African scholars on campus can go a long way at finding UC Berkeley alumni and engaging them in the study.   Current scholars have the added interest in developing helpful contacts for when they graduate, and alumni are given the opportunity to share their experiences and give back to their “alma mater”.

After determining the sample population, the project will conduct an email/mail survey followed by a sub-sample of in-depth interviews (in-person and via video conferencing).  The Graduate Division’s Assistant Dean of Research and Planning at UC Berkeley, Dr. Andrew Smith, will lead the collaborative effort to design the instrument, validate the questions through pilot testing and focus groups, collect response data, and conduct quantitative analysis of the results.  Depending upon tracking success, and the “starting year” (between 1980-1995) the collective number of alumni reached will exceed 1,000 and may approach 1,500.

PARIS Workshops
International House and VC for Student Affairs, Harry Le Grande, host Reception for “PARIS” Study Workshop and MCF Scholars.

At the end of the workshop, participants agreed on a realistic timetable for the two-year study (2014-2015) and formed four research committees or working groups to carry out the work – IRB approval and governance; literature review; survey design and analysis, and narrative inquiry.  

Doctoral candidate in Sociology and GSR for the study, Ben Gebre-Medhin, has personal and professional interests in the research. “As a current graduate student, and the child of an African scholarship recipient, I’m excited to be a part of a team working to collect data on a critical yet understudied population.  I’m particularly excited to have a chance to strengthen the MasterCard Foundation’s ongoing programs and contribute to a better understanding of the impact of world class higher education on the lives of individuals from under served populations and the national and local communities from which they come.”

Learn more about the MCFSP.

PARIS Researchers: Rosemary Joyce (Principal Investigator), Robin Marsh (Project Coordinator and Research Specialist) and Andrew Smith (Senior Data Analyst.)