"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


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.


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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 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 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