Project PI Yasemin Soysal gave a seminar in the Tsinghua Department of Sociology on 16 May 2018, entitled, International student mobility: Theoretical and methodological reflections from Bright Futures research project.
Abstract: The increase in the number of internationally circulating higher education students in the last 50 years has been striking: from approximately 250,000 in 1965, up to an estimated 5 million at present. Conventionally, international education is studied either in relation to high skilled migration or as a mechanism of elite (re-)production. The former focuses on classical push & pull factors at the country (aggregate) level, with brain-drain or -gain implications. The latter engages with Bourdieusian logic of capital conversion; it is often discussed in the context of middle- and upper-class family strategies and investment in their children. I consider such perspectives analytically restrictive and insufficient to understand the mobility of higher education students in the 21st century—instead we need to locate our analysis in the nexus of education and migration fields. Starting from a transnational vantage point, I suggest a theoretical perspective which connects educational migrations to transnational convergences, among higher education institutions towards global standards and among students towards the spread of educational and mobility aspirations as an end in itself. Methodologically such a perspective requires multi-sited comparisons of higher education students, not only those who move abroad for their education but also who move internally, and those who do not move at all. Bright Futures is a unique collaborative research project that draws on such comparisons of high quality representative data of Chinese international students in the UK and Germany with representative samples of Chinese students in China, as well British and German students in their countries respectively as control groups. In my talk, I will draw on the broader intellectual premises of the project to elaborate the implications of such analytical strategy for a number of issues in international student mobility, particularly aspirations beyond returns, heterogeneity, and selectivity.