Asian Educational Mobilities

Asian Educational Mobilities: A Comparative Study of International Migration of Japanese and Chinese Higher Education Students

PI: Yasemin Soysal (University of Essex)
Co-I: Hector Cebolla Boado (UNED) and Thomas Faist (University of Bielefeld)

[Funded by the ESRC and the DFG, through the ORA scheme, 2016-2019.]

Chinese students are key to the recent surge in international mobility, constituting nearly a fifth of all internationally mobile students, up from 8% of the total in 2000. This contrasts sharply with the international mobility trajectory of Japanese students, which has shown a downward trend since the early 2000s.  China sources the biggest group of international students not only in the US (31%) and the UK (16%), but also in Japan (62%) and South Korea (76%). Thus they contribute not only to internationalization but also regionalization of higher education. Japanese students, in contrast, persistently choose Western destinations, despite the rapid diversification of higher education market in the region.

What explains such different mobility trajectories?  How are higher education student preferences shaped for regional as opposed to beyond region migrations, and what are the differential impact of such preferences on perceived value and potential of tertiary education for future life course aspirations and orientations?

Our project aims to answer these questions through an innovative research design: we will conduct three-way comparisons on an analytic sample of international Japanese and Chinese students in Britain and Germany ((the two most popular European destinations for Japanese and Chinese students), with those who stayed domestically, as well as Chinese students who migrated to Japan. These comparisons, employing individual level survey data, will allow accurate descriptions of student flows and stimulate further theory building on educational migration patterns and processes.

The diverging mobility trajectories of the Chinese and Japanese student have to be considered against the backdrop of economic, demographic, and educational contexts of the two countries. China’s economy has undergone rapid growth since the 1978 opening-up policy; as other emerging economies, China is spending comparatively high proportions of household income (13%) on education. Relatedly, China has experienced dramatic expansion in tertiary education enrollments in the last two decades, which exacerbated domestic competition for places in colleges. Among the OECD countries, Japan was faster than European countries in widening access to higher education, mainly through expansion of its private university sector. Furthermore, Japan faces a rapidly ageing population and a stagnated economy and job market not tuned with the globalization of human resources. Such varying contexts provide good comparative leverage for systematically assessing within and without region migration selectivity and its role in shaping the return of tertiary education on life course orientations more broadly. These questions are understudied in the context of Asian student mobilities, partly because of the lack of appropriate data sets.  Our project aims to address this void.

The project will build upon and expand our current funded survey research, “Bright Futures: A Comparative Study of Internal and International Mobility of Chinese Higher Education Students” (Euro-China UPC, ES/L015633/1), and involve collaboration with Japanese researchers.