International Scholarships, Foreign Aid, Foreign Affairs and Research: A Conversation – Anna Kent
International Higher Education scholarships have played and continue to play a role in the foreign aid and foreign affairs efforts of many nations (including Australia) for more than a century. And yet, research into scholarships, the role they play, how they are evaluated and what impact they can and do have is limited. So, a small group of interested parties convened at Deakin Downtown for a discussion on the topic research into scholarships, and where attention might be best focused in the future.
Attendees were a mix of practitioners, researchers and those who straddle the worlds of academy and practice (a common feature in scholarships). The guest of honour was Professor Joan Dassin, visiting from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Joan has extensive experience in scholarships policy, research and delivery.
The conversation was wide ranging, and each participant brought different ideas to the table. The notes below provide an insight to the conversation, and while they are not a comprehensive report of the events – it was a three-hour conversation after all– they do point to the key areas the conversation ranged over and areas where research might be best directed.
Continuity of scholarships was discussed – it is one of the key assets of a scholarship program but can also lead to a stagnation. Scholarships can be enduring and they are adaptable, but they can be captured by elites if care is not taken.
There is a diverse typology of scholarships, some long standing schemes such as the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan continue – with elasticity in the design allowing for changes to the program to reflect the donor’s needs. Others, such as the Ford Foundation Fellowships are designed with an end date, and work as a discrete program. This leads to opportunities for research in comparing the types, but also adds to the layers of assumptions that are common in scholarship programs.
There are also paradoxes within scholarship programs themselves. They are an individual award, with an expectation of broader community outcomes. This conversation led to a consensus that the unit of analysis when it comes to scholarships needs to be considered. Outcomes can be considered by cohort, or program, rather than individual by individual.
The role of the nation state, and Western academic traditions, is dominant in the design of many scholarship programs – particularly development scholarships. Evaluation is often conducted in relation to outcomes for nation states (both the donor and the recipient), and there is an assumed primacy of the Western university as the ideal destination for study.
A discussion about the design of scholarships, and the outcomes design elements are expected to provide highlighted contradictions within programs. Selection processes have the potential to reinforce privilege, return home provisions can stymie short and long-term impacts and experiences on-award are under-investigated.
As to be expected, there were multiple perspectives on all of these issues around the table. What was clear, however, was that scholarships provide us with an interesting opportunity given that as it stands now, there are significant links between policy makers, practitioners and academics. This provides donors and designers with opportunities to integrate research and evaluation into designs, policy makers to work off an evidence base, and academics a large pool of potential topics.
Thanks to the Contemporary Histories Research Group and the International Education Association of Australia for supporting Professor Dassin’s trip to Australia, and thanks to Joan for making the trip.