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Longitudinal Study on Impact of UWC Education ​​​​​​​

13 November 2017

The Good Project of Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education and UWC join forces for Longitudinal Study on Impact of UWC Education 

Over 50 years after the founding of the first UWC college in 1962, the UWC movement continues to educate young people with its mission to “make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future”. An education based on the UWC educational model is believed to empower young people to become change makers for a better future and enable each of them to have a positive impact on the world. However, to date only limited empirical research has been available to demonstrate how a UWC education impacts the skills and attitudes of its graduates and how they become forces for a more peaceful and sustainable future. UWC has therefore partnered with researchers from The Good Project of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to conduct a scientific study which will investigate the impact of a UWC education on the values and attitudes of its graduates.
The findings of this study will, on the one hand, enable the UWC movement to improve its educational programme with a view to strengthening the UWC mission. On the other hand, the researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) believe that this study should be of interest to the wider educational field, allowing educators to understand which factors may contribute to developing particular dispositions and behaviors, and how a mission-driven educational culture affects longitudinal student outcomes. 

For 50 years, Project Zero, a major research institute at Harvard University, has conducted research in the arts, the nature of intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, and ethics. The Good Project, one of the endeavors at Project Zero, promotes excellence, engagement, and ethics in education, preparing students to become good workers and good citizens who contribute to the overall well-being of society. Through research-based concepts, frameworks and resources, researchers seek to help students reflect upon the ethical dilemmas that arise in everyday life and give them the tools to make thoughtful decisions. The UWC Impact Study can be found under the project title Investigating Impacts of Educational Experience.

Prof. Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at HGSE, and Principal Investigator of the project, commented: “Our research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is delighted to have the opportunity to work with the network of UWC schools and colleges. We hope that the findings of our four-year study will provide valuable data for UWC and that those findings will also prove of use to other schools around the world who share the laudable vision of UWC.
In preparation and to investigate the possible remit of such a study, in 2015-16, UWC South East Asia (UWCSEA) led a 1,5 year exploratory impact study conducted by researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and involving UWCSEA, UWC Red Cross Nordic, Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa and UWC-USA. The main purpose of the study was to create a context and background for a more long-term, in-depth study, and to determine exactly which aspects of impact such a study should focus on. 
Under the assumption that UWC develops particular characteristics in its community members (represented by students and alumni) that will lead them to have a positive impact on society, the central research question of the exploratory study was: “What characteristics related to ethical standards does UWC develop in its students and how does this manifest in their daily lives, as current students or later as alumni?”.
In spite of the typical flaws of self-assessment tools and survey questions too obviously hinting at the expected answer, responses to open-ended questions in an online survey and replies to interview questions and thought experiments suggested that a UWC education does have an impact on its students’ senses of ethics, meaning that their values reflect UWC’s values. 


  • Respondents overwhelmingly believe that their UWC experience had a significant impact on their ethical values and that they incorporate these values into their daily lives.
  • There is remarkable consistency between students and alumni across the four participating UWC schools and colleges in their belief that their ethical values were developed during their time at a UWC school or college, and which kinds of values they developed. There was also a great consistency in how they would define a ‘better world’, with replies particularly focusing on social justice issues and the importance of peace and respect.
  • The commonality of shared ethical values appears to override differences in gender, selection process, scholarship status, educational model of the UWC school or college attended and country of origin, where surprisingly no significant variations became visible. Some of these aspects may be further investigated in the longer-term study.
  • Key experiences mentioned as contributing to the impact include: service, specific conversations that emerge during class, and the experience of being in a multicultural and multilingual environment with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
  • Furthermore, the individual history and current (cultural and political) context of each UWC school or college significantly influence perceived differences in focus for respondents’ experiences.

However, upon completion of this exploratory study, the kind of impact that UWC students and alumni have on society was still unclear. UWC and Project Zero have therefore agreed to pursue a four-year study involving members and stakeholders from across the UWC movement to identify particular dispositional outcomes of the UWC experience. Specifically, this longitudinal study will explore which facets of UWC may be most influential in encouraging these, leading to a positive impact on society.

Dr. Shelby Clark, Senior Research Manager of the study at Project Zero commented: “Now, perhaps more than ever, our world is in need of youth who are prepared with the dispositions to act for the benefit of the local and global good. This project will investigate whether UWC is achieving its model and mission to develop globally competent and prosocial students, and, if so, how they are achieving such a goal. In addition, we will examine how UWC alumni are potentially impacting society on a larger scale. As a result, the study may not only offer suggestions for continued growth for UWC educators but could also shed new light on how educators worldwide might draw on UWC's strategies to foster globally minded students with the qualities needed to address new and developing challenges.”

The study, which was launched in August 2017, will have two strands: the first will be a longitudinal study of a single cohort of students, from entry into the first year of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (“IBDP 1”), equivalent to grade 11, (student intake 2018/2019 - 2019 for Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa) through exit from IBDP 2/Grade 12, exploring the development of and changes in particular conceptions and behaviors over the course of the educational experience at a UWC school or college, attempting to observe change over time and to identify experiences that were particularly influential. Partner schools, ideally with strong mission focus, international and boarding elements, who also offer the IB diploma program, will allow for robust comparison and identification of elements specific to a UWC educational experience.
The second strand will be a cross-sectional study of cohorts of alumni, exploring attitudes and behaviors, in order to demonstrate how a UWC education impacted their later lives and the impact these alumni are having on society or their community.
UWCSEA has kindly raised the necessary funding from donors to conduct this study. 

Jens Waltermann, Executive Director of UWC International, commented: “UWC International and the whole UWC movement are excited to partner with researchers of Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education for this Impact Study, as we all believe that raising our youth to contribute to the well-being of society should be an essential goal of education. Identifying the educational factors necessary to achieving this goal will not only serve the movement to improve its educational model, but hopefully also benefit the wider educational community. We are particularly grateful to UWCSEA for not only having taken the lead on the Exploratory Impact Study, but also for their efforts on raising the necessary funding for this longer-term study, which is long overdue”.
For questions or comments please contact Vanessa Christoph, Consultant to UWC International and Project Manager of the UWC Impact Study.