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Geographies of educational mobilities: exploring the uneven flows of international students

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Abstract

A growing number of individuals are choosing to study abroad although, like other manifestations of globalisation, the sources and destinations of these migratory flows are highly uneven. Within the context of ongoing debates about the motives for overseas study, the reproduction of class advantage, and countries' competitive advantage for internationally mobile students, this paper seeks to improve understanding of these variations. We situate international student mobilities within a theoretical framework which connects recent work in geography, emphasising the differentiation advantage derived from foreign study, with insights more commonly applied to labour migration which emphasise costs and benefits. Our findings, based on a statistical analysis of a large sample of country pairs, call into question the central importance commonly ascribed to countries' university quality in shaping the mobilities of international students. Far more influential is income in destination countries, together with relational ties created by colonial linkages, common language and pre-existing migrant stocks. Unique to the literature, we not only demonstrate important differences in the determinants of international student mobilities between developed and developing countries, but also between different sub-groupings of developing countries. Indeed, an important insight from our study is that it may be useful to move beyond binary classifications, and to deploy more refined country categorisations in seeking to understand contemporary corporeal mobilities.

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