Why place matters: imaginative geography and international student mobility

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Abstract

This paper develops and extends the recent work on international student mobility by expanding beyond the traditional push–pull factors of migration to show that students are influenced by more than the economic in their decision of where to study. It uses original data collected through interviews and focus groups with 38 higher education international students at three UK universities located in Aberdeen, Belfast and Nottingham to show that when students choose to study overseas they are influenced by diverse perceptions of place that they have constructed over long periods of time. These imaginative geographies are the direct result of exposure to a range of different media, as well as stories relayed to them from members of their social networks. This paper demonstrates that students studying in Scotland and Northern Ireland appear to have highly developed imaginative geographies in relation to their chosen study sites. By contrast, international students studying in England tended to have little conception of their chosen place of study. In this case the powerful imaginative geographies that had been instilled within them focused on London, overshadowing their understanding of their chosen study site.

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