About the IFP Alumni Tracking Study
The IFP Alumni Tracking Study explores the personal pathways and career trajectories of alumni of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP). Launched in 2013, the study is being carried out by the Research, Evaluation and Learning (REL) Team at the Institute of International Education (IIE). The study is unprecedented in its size and scope and will provide useful lessons for IIE and the field at large on how to carry out impact studies over an extended period, and how to design fellowships for maximum impact. By studying the link between higher education and social justice, and the effect that higher education can have on marginalized populations and leadership, we are better able to understand the long-term impact of international higher education scholarship programs that seek to promote social change.
Core Research Questions
IFP’s theory of change guides the Tracking Study’s approach, hypothesizing that the fellowship opportunity supported participants in developing their roles as social justice leaders. The acquisition of knowledge and skills through higher education led, in turn, to social change beyond the individual sphere of influence.
The research questions in the study’s
methodology reflect the overall vision of IFP in linking higher education opportunity to social change:
- What have been the long-term impacts of the IFP experience on its alumni? How has the program enabled alumni to contribute to long-term impacts at the organizational, community, and societal levels?
- What contributions to social justice have IFP alumni made as leaders in their communities as a result of their fellowship opportunity?
- What is the link between higher education and social justice? How can higher education fellowship programs provide opportunities to address social inequalities?
IIE is conducting three IFP Global Alumni Surveys during the course of the study.
- In April 2016, Social Justice and Sustainable Change: The Impacts of Higher Education shared the results of the 2015 IFP Global Alumni Survey.
- In March 2019, Leveraging Higher Education to Promote Social Justice shared the results of the 2018 IFP Global Alumni Survey. The findings in this report also compared longitudinal data from 2015 to 2018 among alumni who completed both surveys.
- In 2022, IIE is planning to administer the third and final IFP Global Alumni Survey, with findings to be distributed by the end of the study in 2024.
In 2018, IIE administered the IFP Organizations Survey, a one-time survey that aimed to document IFP’s impact on organizations where IFP alumni work or volunteer. This survey was designed precisely for organizational staff that work or have worked with the IFP alumni.
IIE is conducting in-country fieldwork to understand better the impact of IFP alumni in their home communities and around the world.
First Fieldwork Round: From 2016 to 2018, the study team worked with 45 local researchers in 10 IFP locations to conduct local fieldwork. This qualitative fieldwork was characterized by a participatory approach that mirrored the collaborative spirit of IFP.
- Asia: Social Justice Leaders in Action: IFP Impacts in Asia shared the results of focus groups and interviews with 274 alumni and community members in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
- Latin America: Leaders, Contexts, and Complexities: IFP Impacts in Latin America drew upon focus groups and interviews with 268 IFP alumni and community stakeholders in Brazil, Guatemala, and Mexico.
- Africa and the Middle East: Transformational Leaders and Social Change: IFP Impacts in Africa and the Middle East included the perspectives of 361 IFP alumni and stakeholders in four locations: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Palestine.
IIE is planning a second and final round of qualitative fieldwork in 2022. The REL Team will prioritize, as much as possible, countries that have not been part of previous fieldwork.
Other Study Activities
The study team is also focusing on additional study activities to complement quantitative and qualitative data collection.
- Out of Country Analysis: Past qualitative fieldwork revealed that our analysis was missing the voices of IFP alumni who are currently out of their home country (approximately 13%, 2018 IFP Global Alumni Survey) and who may be contributing to social justice in various ways. In 2020, the IFP team conducted a qualitative study of IFP alumni located outside of their home countries analyzed the links these alumni experience with their home countries and communities and the potential impact of the alumni. Explore the findings and more through the podcast series: Between Two Worlds.
- Alumni Awards Analysis: IIE has administered two rounds of IFP Alumni Awards to alumni to support their work and professional development in areas related to their IFP degree. As a result of these two rounds, 248 IFP alumni have received funding beyond the IFP fellowship. A brief study of the IFP Alumni Awards will focus on the work that IFP alumni were able to achieve with their awards and how this contributes further to the goals of IFP.
- IFP Alumni Organizations Analysis: The Ford Foundation and IFP facilitated the creation of 22 IFP Alumni Organizations prior to the end of the program in 2013. While the IFP Alumni Tracking Study has not necessarily studied these organizations as part of its scope, we have found over time and through our data collection that some IFP Alumni Organizations are effectively replicating and promoting the goals of IFP in local, national, and international contexts. This case study analysis will focus on three to four IFP Alumni Organizations still in existence and their administration, activities, and impact in furthering the goals of IFP.
Between 2001 and 2013, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) supported graduate or postgraduate-level education for 4,305 emerging social justice leaders from 22 countries. Ford Foundation provided $417 million in funding resources for IFP, the single largest program commitment in its history.
Geared toward emerging grassroots leaders and social innovators, IFP was based on an inclusive higher education model that prioritized social commitment over traditional selection criteria. Its underlying assumption was that, given the right tools, socially committed individuals from disadvantaged communities could succeed in postgraduate studies and would advance social change upon returning home. IFP alumni represent a wide range of groups traditionally excluded from higher education based on their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, economic and educational backgrounds, or physical disability, among other factors.
For more information on IFP, please visit the Ford Foundation IFP website.
The IFP Approach
IFP worked with 22 International Partner organizations to create program selection criteria that considered gender, race and ethnicity, religion, region of origin, economic and educational background, parents’ education and employment, physical disability, and other local barriers to education among applicants. Although these factors affected access to higher education in all IFP countries, their relative weight differed in each context. IFP International Partners worked closely with local scholars, activists, public intellectuals, and public sector representatives to develop locally meaningful definitions of “disadvantage.”
Educational opportunities are often concentrated in major urban centers and are focused on urban elites. IFP therefore developed innovative methods to reach remote and disadvantaged populations. These included:
IFP’s emphasis on equity and access to higher education as an entry threshold was in marked contrast to other international fellowship programs, and the inclusion of non-academic criteria to judge candidates’ relative merit as “transformative leaders” was also distinctive. These criteria were developed by local International Partners — first to define basic eligibility in relation to “equity and opportunity,” and then to determine individual competitiveness in regard to academic qualifications, leadership capacity, and social commitment.
IFP also enhanced its ability to attract diverse candidates by eliminating an age limit, by permitting study in a wide range of academic fields and disciplines, and by allowing Fellows to enroll in universities located in any part of the world, including those in their home country or region.
While IFP employed well-known peer review practices in selecting Fellows, these were adapted to serve local communities. IFP selection panels brought with them a high level of familiarity with local needs and conditions. Thus, they were able to assess candidates on IFP’s multiple dimensions, from equity and opportunity considerations to leadership, social engagement, academic performance, and potential. Locally constituted selection panels also enabled candidates to submit applications in their own languages.
Worldwide, IFP earned a reputation for transparency, stemming from the professional standing, integrity, and independence of the selection panels. To further safeguard against special interests, neither the Ford Foundation nor IFP program staff were permitted to serve on the panels.
Many fellowships require that a candidate be accepted at their chosen university before being formally accepted into the program. This type of requirement is often a significant barrier for people with limited access to higher education and insufficient knowledge and means to identify and apply to high-quality postgraduate programs.
During the one-year “Fellow-elect” period, IFP provided preparatory training and placement support for entrance into universities. Working with local providers, the program offered pre-enrollment training to Fellows-elect on an as-needed basis in areas such as computer literacy, research skills, and academic writing, as well as foreign language study. For about one-third of IFP Fellows, preparatory training continued after arrival at their host universities.
During the Fellow-elect period, selected candidates also received educational advising to help them refine their study objectives, which in turn facilitated their placement in universities. The investment in preparing Fellows for academic success is one of IFP’s most important and effective innovations.
IFP’s decentralized system required International Partners to maintain contact with active Fellows regardless of their study location. This created a supplementary support system that went well beyond regular student services provided at host universities and also provided a smoother transition from the fellowship experience to Fellows’ return back home.
During the course of their study, Fellows were able to take advantage of other program benefits, such as professional enhancement, family funds, sandwich programs, and English language training. In order to renew multi-year grants, Fellows were required to provide International Partners proof that they had completed the current academic year in good standing. These reporting requirements allowed Partners to provide their Fellows with additional guidance on how best to utilize the fellowship to finish their academic programs and meet degree requirements.
Further incentives for return were built into the IFP system through Partner-provided services, including counseling for returning Fellows and information on job and study opportunities. Partners also had alumni serve as recruiters, selection panel members, and active members of country-based IFP alumni associations.