The Scholarship Program Research Network – a new international community for studying and evaluating scholarship programs

Measuring Success?

July 2017 saw the launch of the Scholarship Program Research Network (SPRN), an informal virtual community that aims to bring together individuals who study and evaluate scholarship programmes (both international and domestic). The purpose of the SPRN is to connect individuals and organisations across sectoral and geographic divides, share resources, and facilitate opportunities for future exchange and collaboration. The Network will not be exclusive to particular groups, but primarily aims to aid scholarship programme administrators, programme evaluators, academics and graduate students, independent consultants, and others around the world with an interest in scholarship programmes to connect more easily. As a reader of Measuring Success?, we hope that you will also consider joining the SPRN.

Why do we need a network?

Those who administer, research, and evaluate scholarship programmes often work in small circles, focusing on a specific programme, country, or area of study, and within agencies or institutes whose work goes beyond scholarships. Historically, it has been difficult to share information and resources across administrators, evaluators, and academics because these communities only had limited opportunities for exchange.

In addition, evaluators of these programs typically work directly with one (or a few) agencies, often within a specific geographic area, and deliver tailored reports for these audiences. Unfortunately, they rarely have a chance to participate in a conversation around scholarship evaluation beyond their immediate projects.

In the academic community, researching scholarships sustains a longer-term interest, but is spread globally and crosses many different academic disciplines, ranging from economics to regional studies to history. Thus, researchers are often invisible to each other – as well as to the policymaking and evaluation communities – and some of their work remains blocked by the cost of access to academic journals. Academics have also used a variety of terms around the world to talk about scholarships, making comprehensive research difficult. Moreover, much relevant material lies in non-indexed reports published on the websites of private foundations or government agencies, some of which are not publicly available.

On the rare occasions when scholarship programme administrators do connect with each other – through networks such as the European Donor Harmonisation Group and others – these interactions are positive, but their engagement with evaluators and the academic community is frequently circumscribed by research that is commissioned for their own programmes. It is atypical to find, for instance, a body of scholarship administrators or policymakers regularly at academic conferences or routinely reading and publishing in the academic literature. There are, of course, specific exceptions to these trends, but in our experience the broader point holds true: administrators, evaluators and academics are distinct communities that need to talk together more often.

The communication gap appears even larger between national and international scholarship programmes. These two communities rarely cross over at an international level, particularly in the Anglosphere, where international scholarships are rooted in the imperatives and funding streams of international development, whereas domestic scholarships (even for study abroad!) tend to be the focus of education ministries. Additionally, and unlike reports on international scholarship schemes, work on domestic programmes is understandably more likely to be published in national languages, making access more challenging for a non-domestic audience. As a result, there is very little cross-referencing between domestic and international initiatives – even those working in largely the same mode or space – in research on scholarship programmes.

To begin addressing these concerns, a small group of researchers have decided to combine their bibliographic resources and pull together those who are working in this field to form the nucleus of a new research community: The Scholarship Program Research Network (SPRN).

Network resources and function

SPRN is an opportunity to bring together those who are currently involved or interested in researching scholarship programmes. The network will provide a link among those involved in commissioning, administering, analysing, and evaluating scholarship programmes: a way of making each constituency aware of cutting edge work elsewhere. We believe there is great strength in bringing together a larger group of people who are exploring new topics in scholarship programmes to improve the field overall.

The membership of such a group will ideally be diverse, creating a broad network and including graduate students whose detailed research on scholarship schemes frequently 'flies below the radar' of administrators, evaluators, and policymakers. Towards that end, we have invited more than 10 individuals already pursuing graduate research in scholarship programmes to the Network – based from China to California, via London and Geneva – and assume there are many more around the world. We hope they will join us and share their research plans with us.

To provide the basic structure for SPRN – including an overview of existing resources, and new and ongoing projects, related to scholarship programmes – the SPRN has set up a LinkedIn page. To join the group, please click the blue "ask to join" button on the right hand side. All members are encouraged to post an introduction, as well as share new literature, evaluations, and reports from around the globe. You're also welcome to alert fellow members to relevant meetings and conferences, open tenders, and other items relevant to a community of scholars and practitioners. Please note that this site is not intended for advertising current scholarships or requesting information about specific opportunities – there are already many quality online sources for these activities.

We also welcome announcements of relevant meetings and conferences, or other opportunities to link members of the group in person or virtually.

In addition to the LinkedIn group, we have started a shared bibliography of academic research, evaluation reports, and other publications related to scholarship programs. This bibliography is open access and available in several formats, and is currently hosted on Google Drive.

If you use a reference management software then simply import the correct format (RIS usually works well). If you have a (free) Zotero account, you may also access this bibliography through the Zotero group we use to manage the references.

We intend to curate this bibliography and refresh the version regularly. Please help us to make it a comprehensive and useful resource by suggesting additional literature and reports either on the LinkedIn group discussion page or through direct email to Matt Mawer or Anne Campbell.

Next steps for the Network

The strength of the Network is its members and we welcome you to join the SPRN LinkedIn Group.

In the future, we aim to identify opportunities to take this growing network offline. For example, next year we hope to convene groups of SPRN members at large conferences with delegates (e.g. Comparative and International Education Society or NAFSA) and explore ways we can work together, share results, and pursue joint projects. We also hope to connect those interested in special topics, such as gender or regional issues, and perhaps establish special interest groups. We also plan to share resources with relevant organisations and professional networks outside this Network. SPRN is not designed to supplant or replicate existing networks or special interest groups, but rather to connect and build upon the momentum generated by increasing engagement globally with researching scholarship programmes.

SPRN was founded and is current managed by Aryn Baxter (Arizona State University), Anne Campbell (Middlebury Institute of International Studies), Mirka Martel (Institute of International Education), and Matt Mawer (formerly of The Association of Commonwealth Universities).

Aryn Baxter is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education and directs the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at Arizona State University. Her research examines the lived experiences and social networks of international scholarship recipients.

Anne Campbell is an Assistant Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. Her research focusses on the relationship between international scholarships and fellowships and social and economic development in students' home countries. Prior to this, she managed an international undergraduate scholarship scheme and has worked in the NGOs and government sectors.

Mirka Martel is Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation at the Institute of International Education (IIE) and manages performance and impact evaluations of international fellowship and scholarship programmes, including many that seek to develop leadership skills or promote access to higher education among underserved populations. She is the Project Director of the Ford Foundation IFP Alumni Tracking Study.

Thanks to Matt Mawer for his input on this piece.

'Measuring success?' – This blog series draws from the ACU's experience in scholarship design, administration, and analysis, and our connections in the sector, to explore the outcomes of international scholarship schemes for higher education. New posts are published every three to four weeks, authored by experts from all around the world. Find out more

If you are interested in contributing to the series, please email

Last modified on 07/08/2017
Tags: research, impact, 'Measuring success?' blog series, scholarships