"Bright Futures":A Comparative Study of Internal and International Mobility of Chinese Higher Education Students ('Euro-China UPC')

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Sociology

Abstract

Young people moving away from home to seek "bright futures" through higher education are a major force in the urbanization of China and the internationalization of global higher education. As many as 50 million young Chinese have become urban residents or moved away from their hometowns as a result of seeking higher education, while Chinese students constitute the largest single group of international students in the richer OECD countries of the world, making up 20 percent of the total student migration to these countries. A growing proportion of these students are heading to Europe. Yet systematic research on a representative sample of these student migrants is lacking, and theoretical frameworks for migration more generally may not always apply to students moving for higher education.

This research project aims to investigate key dimensions of this educational mobility, and its imports for students and their families, through conducting exploratory interviews and survey research in China, the UK and Germany. We explore this phenomenon in two related aspects: the migration of students from the People's Republic of China to the UK and Germany for higher education, and internal migration for studies within China. This research design enables a fascinating and unusual set of comparisons, between those who stay and those who migrate, both within China and beyond its borders. We also plan to compare Chinese students in the UK and Germany with domestic students in the two countries. Differences and similarities in these groups of students will enable us to identify which types of students choose migration and how this affects their expectations about the impact of such a decision on the course of their lives. Interviews with students' parents will enable answering questions about family strategies and educational migration.

Our research will produce a valuable data set on Chinese student migrants that will be available for future researchers with new sets of questions. By generating innovative data and analytical perspectives on education as a form of migration generally and on Chinese educational migration in particular, this project will open up scholarly questions around who migrates and the effects of migration on these individuals and their families. As well as being presented at academic conferences, and circulated among networks of academic researchers focusing on education and migration, our findings will be published in a number of scholarly journal articles and monographs, in English, Chinese and German languages.

This research will benefit a range of non-academic stakeholders, allowing for more informed policy-making; university recruitment and integration of international students; and parental and student choices. We plan to produce a policy-oriented report containing a summary of our main research findings aimed at governments, tertiary institutions, think-tanks and organizations involved in providing information and support to international students. We will reach key stakeholders through targeted dissemination activities, including half-day conferences for higher education administrators, education agents and educational organizations in London, Brussels and Beijing. Our study will provide important baseline data on gaps between student expectations and experience, thus potentially providing universities in the UK and Germany with information on how better to integrate Chinese students in the future. We plan to write articles on this specific angle for publications aimed at a broad audience in the higher education sector. Some of our findings will be of broad general interest, especially to students and parents in China considering momentous migration decisions. We plan to provide media briefings for journalists who cover education in all three countries, but particularly focused on China and Hong Kong, highlighting elements of our study that address information gaps our data has identified.

Planned Impact

Our impact strategy aims to involve four groups of stakeholders at the project design stages, so that we can make full use of their contextual knowledge and feed their needs for information into the design of our survey instruments. This is particularly important since one of the main real world impacts of this project is reducing information gaps so that actors including governments, universities and students and their parents can make more appropriate choices. The initial phases of our project thus have such consultation with interested parties as a central objective, combining gathering input and gathering data.

Governments and parliaments: In all three countries, governments have a need for quality information as input into policy-making affecting educational mobility and provision of higher education to domestic and international students, as well as urbanization in the China context. Both the UK and German governments have identified increasing educational exchanges with China as an aspect of a broader programme of cultural interaction and engagement, while the Scottish government has identified increasing education links and research collaboration between Scotland and China as priority areas. Such aims are often in tension with border control policies, and our research may provide insight on dynamics of mobility and migration that could contribute to more integrated policy regarding international students. We will prepare briefings on our findings for government actors in various settings.

Higher education institutions: This research will be of interest to virtually all HEIs in the UK and Germany, as it is highly relevant to understanding and potentially improving the educational experience of the growing number of students from China they are receiving. Although this project focuses on students studying in the UK and Germany, many of its conclusions may also be relevant to academic administrators in other countries with a high volume of student migrants from China. We expect that our findings could be used by university administrators to improve measures to integrate students arriving from China, addressing specific needs and information gaps that may exist for this group.

Education agents and NGOs: A wide range of for for-profit and non-profit organizations will also benefit. These include education recruiters such as the British Council, Goethe Institute, German Academic Exchange Service and EIC Group; national and international organizations and associations concerned with higher education trends, professional matters and international student welfare; and national and regional student unions and advocacy organizations. We will also circulate our findings to national and local migration-related service and advocacy organizations in the UK and Germany. Many associations in the higher education sector have recently identified student mobility as a specific concern for their members. To reach HEIs and education agents, we plan three main approaches: half-day conferences for HEIs, education agents and organizations involved in international education; articles in specialist education media; and a downloadable policy-oriented report in the three languages of the project partners on the websites of our institutions.

Students, parents and the general public: Chinese students and their parents face a bewildering array of choices regarding higher education, and our findings can potentially provide them with feedback on the implications of different options. While our data gathering will identify specific information gaps among this group, it will also generate ideas on how to reach them with our findings. Briefings to mainstream media covering education issues in China and Hong Kong and blogs on relevant websites and dedicated forums discussing educational migration will be a useful beginning.

Publications

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Cebolla-Boado H (2017) Why study abroad? Sorting of Chinese students across British universities in British Journal of Sociology of Education

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Cebolla-Boado H (2017) Educational optimism in China: migrant selectivity or migration experience? in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

 
Description BF represents a significant advancement in three main strands of scientific literature, with potential contributions in other areas as well. This has been realized through the production of the first ever large-scale (over a sample size of 8000), representative micro-level database on a single flow of high skilled migrants (Chinese higher education students) in origin (China) and multiple destination countries (UK and Germany). This survey was done using strict standards developed at the sampling stage, questionnaire drafting, and fieldwork. Our analyses of the BF survey data revealed:

(1) Little evidence of migrant selectivity among the most educated. Our research is among the first to allow systematic inquiries into the selectivity of high skilled and educated migrants worldwide. Our design has allowed thorough comparisons between educational migrants in two European destinations and non-migrants at origin. Our results have concluded that the importance attributed to selection in the literature might be overstated in the case of highly-educated migrants.
• While there are signs of selection by observable characteristics (i.e. parental education, income), the general profile of Chinese international students is much more diverse than conventionally expected.
• There is no evidence of selection on the basis of unobservable characteristics (i.e. individual traits such as ambition, creativity, or being a risk-taker or independent-minded). Chinese international HE students are not different from Chinese students in China.
This is the most important contribution of our project to the migration literature. Researchers currently involved in documenting migrant selectivity and its consequences will certainly engage with our findings.

(2) Transnationalization of life-course orientations and values. Our project has revealed a remarkable similarity of life-course orientations among students with and without migrant backgrounds and across countries (China, Germany, and the UK, including our samples of European native-borns). We believe that this is the first time the transnational standardization of expectations is documented using high quality, representative data of a cohort of young students in tertiary education. Furthermore, we have also identified a remarkable similarity in the orientation of migrant and non-migrant students in our survey regarding life-course expectations, cosmopolitan and nation-based views. This is an important finding for the expanding literature on the impact of transnationalization and globalization. Our project contributes to a new line of research on how transnationalization impacts on individual orientations and life-choices that is likely to expand in the near future.

(3) No evidence of a migrant shock. Bright Futures has documented the smooth incorporation of international students from China in British and German systems of tertiary education. Contrary to what is conventionally expected, we find few problems among Chinese international students in regard to academic performance, adaptation to learning and academic standards of host countries, and consequently how they experience migration. In other words, there is no migration "culture shock". Specifically, using a standard scale of mental wellbeing, we revealed that students from China are not more distressed than students from European backgrounds. This is an important finding for the literature on tertiary education and the social epidemiology of migration and youth. Our finding invites researchers interested in integration and migration to downscale the impact of migration on the wellbeing of the highly skilled.
Exploitation Route There is significant interest in our findings challenging some of common assumptions about Chinese international students among actors involved in international student mobility in the UK HE sector. We partnered closely with the UK Council on International Student Affairs, and they are keen to take forward these findings in their advocacy. Key points from our policy report were included in the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students Inquiry Report, which stated that our findings highlighted the need to 'get internationalisation right' and recommended the development of a best practice database. Tailored reports for the universities we surveyed will provide impetus for implementing institution-specific changes, which are one avenue towards sectoral change. On the academic side, the project has produced the first representative survey of HE students from China, one of the most important flows of international students globally. As the first source of systematic data on a single flow of highly educated migrants with control groups in origin and destination, it will enable thorough research designs for studies of theoretical questions such as selectivity, heterogeneity, aspirations and motivations, life course orientations among highly educated and skilled migrants stimulating further PhD research and theorization in the field.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://brightfutures-project.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Bright-Futures-Booklet-Web-Version-1.pdf
 
Description British Academy/Leverhulme small grants ; Internationalization of Higher Education: A 'Big Data' Analysis
Amount £9,940 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2016 
End 09/2017
 
Description Global Outlooks - Mapping the Conceptual and Organizational Pathways of Internationalization in Higher Education
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Essex 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 08/2018
 
Description Scientists on the Move: Selectivity and Life Course Orientations among High-Skilled Migrants in the UK
Amount £9,973 (GBP)
Funding ID SRG1819\191311 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 12/2020
 
Description University of Essex, PVC seedcorn fund
Amount £15,500 (GBP)
Organisation University of Essex 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2015 
End 07/2016
 
Description Bright Futures website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We established a website, www.brightfutures-project.com, which is a platform for dissemination of our project activities, research findings and publications, and background information on the project. We also used the website during our survey research phase as a platform for information about the survey. The website also includes our Twitter feed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.brightfutures-project.com
 
Description Contribution to Parliamentary inquiry on international students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We provided an advance copy of our report, In search of excellence: Chinese students on the move, as a submission to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students for their inquiry, 'A sustainable future for international students in the UK'. Several paragraphs covered findings from our report, particularly focusing on the need for the development of 'best practice' in internationalization.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.exeduk.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/APPG-Report-FINAL-WEB-1.pdf
 
Description Conversation article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We published an article in The Conversation about the launch of our policy report, which appeared on the day of the report launch in London, 10 Oct. 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://theconversation.com/what-chinese-students-want-from-uk-universities-new-research-104457
 
Description FE News press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A version of our press release on the policy report was published on the FE News sites, which is widely read by higher education administrators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.fenews.co.uk/press-releases/20523-stereotypes-about-chinese-international-students-are-m...
 
Description Launch of policy-oriented report 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a launch event for our policy-oriented report, In search of excellence: Chinese students on move, on 10 Oct. 2018 at the Great Britain China Centre (GBCC). The event was co-sponsored by GBCC and the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA). Attendees included people from international offices and other departments involved with international students in various UK universities, academics researching international students, representatives from the National Union of Students, UKCISA staff and representatives of various sectoral organizations representing UK universities, such as British Universities International Liaison Association. Following our presentation of the key findings, attendees raised many interesting questions and asked for more information about our study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://brightfutures-project.com/policy-report-post/
 
Description Panel presentation at the EURASIA Higher Education Summit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We gave presentations on the main findings of our project and took part in the networking breakfast. Our findings stimulated lively conversations and questions, which continued at the network event attended by university managers/administrators, international recruitment agencies, educational ministry representatives, sectoral organizations representing higher education institutions from Asia, North America, and Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://bulten.jettsms.com/mailing/10629db9-eee1-446c-baa6-7497c2ad212e.html
 
Description Policy report launch in Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 24 Oct. 2018, we organized a breakfast briefing in Edinburgh on our report, In search of excellence: Chinese students on the move. We presented particular angles from the report that relate to the situation of Chinese students in Scottish universities, as well as our general findings. Attendees included staff from Scottish universities working in recruitment of and support for international students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://brightfutures-project.com/policy-report-post/
 
Description Presentation at conference for UKCISA members 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We gave a presentation, Well-being of Chinese international students at UK universities: report from a representative sample survey, that summarized findings from the Bright Futures survey data at the UK Council for International Student Affairs annual conference in Edinburgh in June 2018. Participants were primarily staff involved in international student recruitment and support at UK universities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ukcisa.org.uk/Training--Events/Annual-conference/Annual-Conference-2018
 
Description Presentation at event on EU-China Student Mobility 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 26 Oct. 2018, we co-organized an event with DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Brussels. The first part of the event was a presentation of our policy-oriented report, In search of excellence: Chinese students on the move. The second part was a panel on EU-China student mobility. The event was very well attended, and participants included academics studying international student mobility; staff involved in recruitment and other aspects of international student affairs in universities in the region; representatives of organizations of European universities; the responsible person from the European Commission involved in international student mobility relating to China; the head of the China mission to the EU and a number of staff from the mission; and representatives of DAAD. Our findings and the panel event stimulated lively conversations and questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.daad-brussels.eu/en/event/our-events/eu-china-student-mobility/
 
Description Presentation for BUILA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In October 2018, we presented findings from the report, In search of excellence: Chinese students on the move, to the China Regional Interest Group of the British Universities International Liaison Association (BUILA), at their request. We were asked to present more details of findings on wellbeing and social interaction in this event. This event was attended by international officers, managers and some directors from the international departments specifically involved in recruitment of and support for Chinese international students at their UK universities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation on findings in Hong Kong 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We presented key findings from our report, In search of excellence: Chinese students on the move, in the seminar series at the Consortium for Higher Education Research in Asia at the University of Hong Kong in late November 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://chera.edu.hku.hk/seminars/
 
Description Press release for report launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The University of Essex issued a press release outlining the findings of our study to coincide with the launch of our policy report in Oct. 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.essex.ac.uk/news/2018/10/10/stereotypes-about-chinese-international-students-are-mistake...
 
Description Provided advance findings to Times Higher Education 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We provided advance findings and written analysis relating to wellbeing of Chinese international students, compared with control groups, to a journalist at Times Higher Education. We also gave an interview to interpret the findings. THE published an article on these findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/chinese-students-uk-more-distressed-peers-back-home
 
Description Talk at British Council event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We were invited to present at a 24 Oct. British Council regional meeting for staff in universities working on international students. We gave a presentation on wellbeing of Chinese international students that also included a summary of our overall findings. The session was attended by around 25 staff from universities, as well as British Council organizers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018