Student Migrants and Contemporary Educational Mobilities

By Rachel Brooks (University of Surrey) and Johanna Waters (UCL)

Over a decade ago, we began work on a book that was published in 2011 as Student Mobilities, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher Education. We were overwhelmed by the positive response we received to this book from the wider academic community. However, over the past decade, research on international student mobilities (ISM) has burgeoned. Between us, we have examined dozens of outstanding PhD theses on this topic, learning a great deal in the process, and have become increasingly aware of how scholarship has progressed and changed – how arguments are shaping disciplines and sub-disciplines.

Our new book, Student Migrants and Contemporary Educational Mobilities, is a timely celebration of the wealth of new scholarship in this area whilst also providing some critical reflections on the nature and substance of this scholarship.

ISM ten years on

A great deal of thought has gone into the structure and content of the book. We spent some time reflecting on Student Mobilities, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher Education and the ways in which we wanted this new book, ten years on, to look and feel. There are many differences between the two books, which reflect changes in the way we think about – and research – international student mobilities, although certain aspects also remain similar. The 2011 book adopted (in some sections) a regional perspective on student mobilities, with three chapters dedicated to specific regions and their experiences of ISM: East Asia, Mainland Europe and the UK.  It considered both outgoing and incoming mobilities, although the chapters on East Asia and the UK dealt mostly with students moving outwards (to countries and institutions located in ‘the West’). In this new book, we have sought to reflect some quite profound changes in the geographies of ISM, not least the growth in regional mobilities within Asia, led by China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.

Key issues and perspectives

The structure of the book seeks to reflect dominant narratives and emergent perspectives within the ISM literature. We consider the socio-economic diversification of internationally mobile students, reflecting the fact that whilst ISM continues often to be practised by the most wealthy and privileged members of society, it is also interesting and valuable to examine examples of ‘less conventional’ student mobilities. Students from different backgrounds (including the less privileged and wealthy) are engaging in study abroad and we explore the implications of this diversification for how we understand ISM.

Another chapter focuses specifically on a question that dominates the extant literature on ISM, and that is its value. Value is, as we discuss, a complex term, with different meanings for different people, institutions and countries. And yet, value, of some sort or other, seems to be at the heart of most discussions of international education and concomitant student mobilities. More recently, we have seen a groundswell of interest in the complicated and sometimes problematic relationship between international students and nation-states. We consider the role that international students play in ‘state-building’, focusing on residency and citizenship. We then turn to explore (the sociological characteristics of) learning, as experienced by international students, including a discussion of how students are constructed in particular ways as ‘learners’ and their in-classroom experiences. The final substantive chapter of the book (and something we barely touched upon in 2011) concerns the question of ethics that has been raised, more recently, in relation to ISM. In particular, we consider the role that international HE plays in the reproduction of inequalities amongst young people in relation to the ethical questions this poses, issues about the (unethical) treatment of international students and how they are habitually positioned, in media and popular discourse, as ‘revenue generating’.

Reading the book

There is no ‘right’ way to read Student Migrants and Contemporary Educational Mobilities. Whilst there are arguments that thread through all the chapters, they can be read individually – or out of sequence – as required. We hope that readers will find it to be a valuable resource on the latest scholarship dealing with aspects of international student mobilities and migration. It does not claim to be an exhaustive account, but we feel confident that we represent well the thrust of the arguments within English-language publications across a range of disciplines. We hope you find it enjoyable and informative.