A Colourful University Life? Transnational Higher Education and the Spatial Dimensions of Institutional Social Capital in Hong Kong


Johanna Waters, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK.

E-mail: J.L.Waters@bham.ac.uk


Transnational higher education represents a lesser-known aspect of the international education industry. In relation to the UK, transnational education is a booming business. British qualifications are offered in 217 countries outside the UK, representing in excess of 388,000 students in total. These students are fascinating precisely because they are acquiring an ‘international education’ in situ, raising a number of pertinent questions relating to the ‘capital’ young people are developing. How valuable is a British degree delivered entirely overseas? What does it actually represent – both conceptually, in terms of students' (im)mobilities, and in relation to individuals' embodied experiences of transnational higher education? This paper draws on the findings of a qualitative project examining British degree programmes offered in Hong Kong and their implications for young people locally. We focus on the experiences of students and graduates and the intentions of a number of UK ‘providers’ (representing different British higher education institutions). We explore the social capital accessible to students undertaking transnational educational programmes and focus in particular upon the spatial availability of ‘institutional social capital’. We argue that the ability of young people to cultivate social capital in the context of transnational higher education is circumscribed in various ways, with implications for subsequent employment opportunities and social mobility. Our paper furthermore responds to recent calls to spatialise the conversion of social capital. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.