Postgraduation Residency Plans of Doctoral Students from Sub-Saharan Africa


 Presenter (s) Sandra Ayivor, University of West Florida
Title Postgraduation Residency Plans of Doctoral Students from Sub-Saharan Africa

For the past six years (i.e., 2012-2017), approximately 39,479 citizens from sub-Saharan African countries migrated to the United States to pursue a tertiary degree. Upon completion, the graduates make residency plans that have brain drain/gain implications (Constant & Massey, 2003; Han, Stocking, Gebbie, & Appelbaum, 2015; McGill, 2013; Szelényi, 2006). While Constant and Massey (2003) found that strong ties to the country of origin influenced a return decision, Han et al. (2015) identified a student’s career plan as the strongest predictor to stay in the U.S. A more recent study by Ugwu and Adamuti-Trache (2017) found that personal factors such as age and sex have associations with postgraduation plans. For example, the probability of older students and men to return to their home countries after graduation was higher than that of younger students and women respectively (Ugwu & Adamuti-Trache, 2017). When it comes to field of study also, international students with doctorate degrees in science and engineering disciplines tend to have high stay rates (Finn, 2014).

Educational, governmental, and business leaders in sub-Saharan Africa and the United States lack rich, descriptive and country-based comparative data about sub-Saharan African doctoral students’ postgraduation residency plans, that is necessary to make funding and employment decisions about sub-Saharan African students who obtain doctorate degrees in the United States. Data available on international students in the United States highlight countries of origin that are the most represented such as China, India, and South Korea (e.g., IIE, 2018b; Migration Policy Institute, 2018; Ruiz, 2014; World Bank, 2019). For instance, the 2017-18 data by the IIE (2018b) emphasized the 25 leading countries of origin, and the only sub-Saharan country represented was Nigeria as a result of its relatively high number of students represented. Data on students from the majority of countries that are least represented, such as countries in sub-Saharan Africa, are often aggregated, as in reports by IIE (Baer et al., 2018; Ugwu & Adamuti-Trache, 2017) and the Migration Policy Institute (2018), and do not provide the level of specifics needed by leaders in sub-Saharan African countries or the United States to make well-informed, data-driven decisions that would benefit the development of human capital. Such data are needed as research has shown that business leaders who use data-driven decision strategies have been 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their competitors (McAfee, Brynjolfsson, Davenport, Patil, & Barton 2012).

The purpose of the study is to examine how postgraduation plans to stay in the U.S. differ among sub-Saharan African doctoral graduates who graduated from 2012 to 2017 based on personal (age, gender, field of study) and economic status factors (i.e., low income, lower middle income, upper middle income, and high income). The study will also provide descriptive data on the characteristics of doctorate recipients from all the 51 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The overarching research question to be answered is: How does the postgraduation plan of intention to stay in the U.S. differ among sub-Saharan African doctoral graduates based on personal (age, gender, field of study) and economic status factors (i.e., low income, lower middle income, upper middle income, and high income) who graduated from 2012 to 2017? The study adopts Lee’s push pull theory of migration to achieve its purpose and answer the research question. Lee (1966) proposed push-pull migration theory to explain migratory patterns of individuals. The theorist proposed four factors that simultaneously influence migratory patterns: (a) social and other factors pushing individuals to leave their country of origin (e.g., war, poverty, unemployment, natural disaster); (b) social and other factors pulling individuals toward a host country (e.g., robust economy, family, jobs, education); (c) obstacles that intervene (e.g., illness, injury, finances, transportation, family); and (d) factors of a personal nature (e.g., age, sex, education, children, elderly parents, disability, planned events; Lee, 1966). Individuals choose to migrate when the negative factors in the country of origin outweigh the positive factors, when the positive factors in the host country outweigh the negative factors, and when solutions are devised to overcome the obstacles and to resolve the personal factors (Lee, 1966). Regarding personal factors, Lee (1966) postulated that individuals’ positive impressions or perceptions of the place of destination also influence the decision to migrate. Thus, the personal factors served as the climax of the entire migratory decision.

The study will employ quantitative methods to collect, report, and analyze secondary data from the National Science Foundation that pertain to sub-Saharan African doctorate degree recipients, who graduated from 2012 to 2017. Specifically, secondary data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates will be accessed upon receiving a license from the Foundation. The statistical tools to analyze the data will be SPSS version 25.

The research will inform policymakers in both the host country – the United States – and the countries of origin about the characteristics of sub-Saharan African doctoral graduates. The data on this group of international students will be useful for policy decisions directed at human resource utilization (UNESCO, 2018). The characteristics of the doctorate recipients are essential to policymakers because the data can be used to predict postgraduation residency plans, and thereby plan toward human resource utilization strategies that may benefit both the countries of origin and the host nation (Bytyci, 2019). Government leaders will be informed about the post-graduation residency plans of doctorate recipients. Having such information is vital for strategic and dynamic leadership geared at retaining or gaining sub-Saharan African human resources (Ploss et al., 2017). Additionally, the data from this study may be a valuable resource for government leaders in the sub-Saharan African region, because each sub-Saharan African country will be able to use the data to develop their human capital (Shuaibu & Oladayo, 2016). Furthermore, the countries of origin would have the opportunity to collaborate with neighboring countries at developing stronger educational institutions that may give more opportunities to sub-Saharan African citizens to pursue higher education in the region, and consequently promote economic growth (Hanson & Tang, 2016; Santi, Romdhane, & Shaw, 2012).

Sandra Ayivor is a doctoral candidate of the College of Education Ghanaian at the University of West Florida. She holds an Ed.S in Education, MA in International Affairs, and a BA in History and Study of Religions. She is a graduate teaching assistant with the College of Education and Professional Studies and has experience with review dissertation through her work at the Dissertation Support and Quality Assurance Center. Sandra is a self-motivated and dedicated individual, who believes in hard work. Sandra volunteers with the International Programs office on the SAIL Academy Project. She also serves as a researcher on the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) Discovery project in the Santa Rosa school district, Florida. Her research interest focuses on women in higher education, reciprocal mentorship between industry and education, and sub-Saharan African students in higher education.

To contact Sandra Ayivor, send an email to

8 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    My friend and future doctor is brilliant. Keep up the good work. Proud of you! All of the sacrifices and hard work will pay off one day for you and your lovely family.

  2. Wow, Sandra- what an important topic you’ve done your study on!!! I wonder if folx are also asking you about plans for Sub-Saharan African doctoral students since President #45 in the US, changes in work visa #s, etc. I’ve been engaging with some of this with immigrants on US higher ed campuses which is different and so I’d like to continue knowing more with you work which I hope continues!!!! Regards, Mathew A. Witenstein, Assistant Professor, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, US.

    1. Sandra Ayivor

      Hello Dr. Witenstein, thanks for the feedback. I will be glad to connect with you for further discourse on this issue of importance to our society. You may reach me through my email or share yours with me.
      Thank you.

  3. Fidelia Addison

    Awesome work Sandra, I believe it will bring a shift into the immigration question to a great extent. All the best with your work & keep shinning.

  4. Sandra Ayivor

    Thanks Fidelia for the feedback. It’s encouraging to have my forerunners read my work and comment. I appreciate it and hope we can have the opportunity to continue the discourse. Thank you once more.

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