International Education and National Policymaking: How Does It Work?

September 7,2016
by Zehra Mirza, IIE Evaluation Officer

International education is increasingly being viewed as a means to developing human capital and cultivating leaders that can drive change and progress, especially in developing countries. Fellowships, study abroad, global research and internship programs are examples of international education exchanges. Through an exchange of students and young professionals across national borders, these higher education opportunities provide access to relevant knowledge and skills necessary for having an impact of policymaking and for a career in public affairs.

While the impact on recipients’ career and personal development is indisputable, evidence on the impact on the national public sphere, particularly in marginalized communities, has yet to be ascertained. How can international fellowship and scholarship programs influence policymaking? Can alumni of such programs foster change at a local, national, and global level by serving as key agents in government institutions?

The ten-year impact study of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) is demonstrating that this indeed is possible. For over a decade, IFP provided advanced higher education opportunities to more than 4,300 social justice leaders from marginalized populations across Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Russia. Although IFP alumni are seeking to promote social justice in their organizations and home communities, our study has found that they are also at the forefront of policy change in their respective countries. They are working for national or international organizations and contributing to discourse on pivotal issues such as indigenous rights, gender advocacy, and religious tolerance.

The results of the 2015 Global Alumni Survey show that 185 IFP alumni are working in local or regional government agencies, 189 are working in national government agencies, and 127 alumni are working in national non-governmental agencies. These alumni have not only drafted policies at their organizations, but have also provided trainings, technical assistance, and have been involved in strategy development affecting approximately 4 million individuals.

Fred Haga, Kenya
Master’s in Special and Inclusive Education, Monash University, Australia

Forced to drop out of high school when he lost his vision, Haga now serves as the Senior Assistant Director in charge of special needs education at the Kenyan Ministry of Education, working to improve educational access and curriculum for disabled students in Kenya.

“In my position at the Ministry of Education, I am able to talk with teachers and emphasize the need to adopt this expanded co-curriculum. The country is currently reviewing the curriculum and trying to develop a co-curriculum for visually impaired learner that will teach daily living skills, orientation and mobility, social skills, self-advocacy and other related skills.”

Sarita Sundari Rout, India
Master’s in Gender Analysis in International Development, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom

Raised in a small, tribal community, Sarita now serves as a Project Manager for the Government of Odisha. She is leading several policy changes in the state; most of which target inequalities within gender, health, class, and ethnicity.

“I have gained confidence in delivering leadership. My education prepared me to make all decisions related to policymaking as a national officer in the government”

Why do we care about assessing program outcomes? In our efforts to manage international education exchange programs, IIE programs aspire to develop leaders. We partner with many government institutions to collaborate on sustainable solutions for long-term development. By investing resources into evaluations, impact assessments, and longitudinal studies, we can better understand how and if at all, our work has actually nurtured leaders—leaders who may now be at the forefront of capacity-building initiatives in government organizations. By measuring the impacts that IIE alumni are having on public policy discourse, we can demonstrate evidence for accomplished goals that may otherwise appear lofty.

Why do we care about assessing impacts on policymaking and governance? While many programs consider measuring the outcomes of their intended goals, more attention can be drawn to the extent to which alumni are affecting public policy discourse in their respective countries. One reason is that if alumni from a particular country were successful in drafting effective policies, neighboring countries can adopt similar practices. Moreover, policymaking grants validation to advocacy work. Although alumni of several programs may be grassroots leaders engaged in social activism, it is critical to evaluate if their work has influenced national legislation. Arguably, when such endeavors solidify into policies at the local or national governmental level, there is increased accountability; an authoritative agency can then hold individuals accountable for actions.

Through the IFP Tracking Study and through talking to alumni and those influenced by their work, we hope to continue documenting how social justice leaders are tackling global challenges, in both the domestic and international policymaking spheres.