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Solar farm near Apia, developed by Australia Awards alum Siu Fanolua.
Photo ©Australia Awards Global Tracer Facility

Building contemporary Samoa with Australian know-how

Research 6 minute read

Australia Awards alumni from Samoa have been able to draw on their scholarships to make notable contributions to the ongoing development of their country’s infrastructure.

A new case study focusing on the long-term impact of the Australia Awards in Samoa shows alumni are contributing to national infrastructure development by drawing on expertise gained in electrical, civil, telecommunications and biomedical engineering.

The Australia Awards Global Tracer Facility was established in 2016 to evaluate the long-term outcomes of Australia’s investment in the Australia Awards and predecessor government scholarships and fellowships. The Facility is managed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

With a population of just under 200 000 people, the islands of Samoa are dependent on foreign aid. Key development programs include the Samoa Economic Infrastructure Program, which focuses on improving transport infrastructure, especially in terms of access to ports and markets to stimulate economic activity; and the Samoa Power Sector Expansion Program, which helps with the construction and rehabilitation of power generation facilities in the country.

ACER interviewed seven Australian Awards alumni from Samoa who undertook scholarships relating to engineering or information technology qualifications, and graduated between 2011 and 2016. Engineering degrees are not offered in Samoa and, as most alumni’s families could not afford to fund international study, the scholarship to study in Australia offered them their only chance to access an engineering degree.

In order to build an understanding of the Samoan context and further explore the contributions of the seven alumni, a further nine stakeholders were interviewed. Feedback from the alumni and stakeholders suggests the Australia Awards are achieving three out of four intended long-term outcomes in Samoa.

1. Development outcomes

In relation to development outcomes, the alumni of focus in the case study have all made contributions to infrastructure development in Samoa. These contributions span a variety of activities across infrastructure development, renewable energy capacity, improving the use of scientific and medical instruments, and increasing capabilities of Samoans.

Most interviewed alumni described finding work easily upon their return to Samoa, which enabled them to use their skills in technical and managerial roles, and pass on their knowledge to colleagues. As a stakeholder from the Samoan Ministry of Works points out, growing local skills and knowledge not only enables Samoa to become less dependent on overseas expertise, but also allows the aid Samoa receives to be put to use in-country rather than being spent on overseas consultants.

2. Bilateral relationships

In relation the public diplomacy outcomes of the Australia Awards, alumni were found to be contributing to cooperation between Australia and Samoa. This includes ongoing communication with lecturers and tutors, involvement in alumni associations and friendships with people met on award.

Interviews suggest that, as a part of the Australian aid program in Samoa, the Australia Awards are significant in promoting and maintaining positive bilateral relationships. The engagement of alumni was seen as an important avenue to consolidating relationships between Australia and Samoa.

3. Professional partnerships

An aspect of diplomacy that the Australia Awards strives for, but was not evident, is the development of formal partnerships between Samoan and Australian businesses or organisations.

The biggest barrier to this outcome identified by the research was the relative lack of opportunity for alumni to undertake internships with Australian organisations as part of their engineering degree. Alumni highlighted that Australian engineering firms were looking for interns who they could ‘convert’ into graduate engineers on completion of their degree. When companies realised that the Australia Awards scholars are bonded to return home to Samoa, the interest in investing in these students seemed to wane.

4. Views of Australia

In relation to the fourth outcome of the Australia Awards, the interviews suggest alumni have enduring, positive views of Australia and Australian expertise. These views have developed as a result of the high quality of education they received, the support they enjoyed as Australia Awards scholars, and the exposure to Australian experiences and lifestyle while on award.

Find out more:
To read the full Samoa case study, visit the Australia Awards Global Tracer Facility website.

For further information about the Australia Awards, visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

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