02 SES 11 A, Transitions: Students Investments in VET
International student mobility has become an important phenomenon in tertiary education over the past few decades. There are over 4.5 million international students currently pursuing tertiary education outside their national border (OECD, 2014). Despite the growing focus of institutions around the world on internationalisation of education and increasing research interests in international education, the ‘mobility’ of international students remains a largely under-theorised concept. This paper provides insights into the mobility of an often-neglected group within the field of international education – international students in vocational education and training (VET). It draws on a four-year study funded by the Australian Research Council that involves 105 semi-structured interviews with international students from the Asia Pacific region, Europe and America in 25 VET institutions and dual sector universities in Australia.
Using Bourdieu’s notions of field, capital and habitus to interpret empirical data, this research found that international student mobility has extended beyond its traditional focus on educational purposes to reflect students’ divergent aspirations to transform their life possibilities. Mobility should therefore be viewed in relation to international students’ investment in the self as subjects in international education and in what they regard as the acquired values of international education. The paper contributes the vocabulary to conceptualise students’ aspirations to engage in cross-border mobility. These aspirations emerging from the empirical data are termed as the profession-based perspective, instrumental-pragmatic perspective and the migration-oriented perspective. The profession-based perspective underscores the aspiration of cross-border mobility as being related to facilitating career advancement or career change. Within the instrumental-pragmatic perspective, the objective to study abroad is centred around instrumentalism and the quest for better material life or becoming the successful successor of family business. In terms of the migration-oriented perspective, overseas study is driven by the aspiration to secure migration in the host country. The interview material of this research shows that these perspectives can be complementary to each other rather than mutually exclusive and an individual student can embrace multiple aspirations of transnational mobility. Moreover, these perspectives illustrate a new mobility trend in the globalised world which interrogates different educational, cultural, social, and personal meanings of mobility. Yet at the same time, they share a common pattern as they are tied to a way of becoming that international students attach to their desire to engage in transnational mobility.
This paper suggests international students imagine their spatial movement as producing new conditions and possibilities for the transformation of themselves and identity re-construction in divergent manners. Transnational mobility is regarded as a resourceful vehicle to help them ‘become’ the kind of person, professional or citizen that they aspire to. Marginson (2014) coins the notion of international education as self-formation and accordingly positions international students as self-forming agents who have the capability to pursue the course of life that they regard as being worth living. Drawing on Marginson’s work, this paper also sees international student mobility as a self-formation process and uses interview material to illustrate how students’ ‘becoming’ is mediated through mobility. Mobility encompasses fluidity, flow and dynamism, thereby being confined to the process of becoming ‘at the expense of the already achieved, the stable and static’ (Creswell, 2006:47). However, whilst the concept of mobility as ‘becoming’ offers advanced theoretical grounding, it is rarely explicitly considered and understood in the field of international education. Drawing on both theoretical discussions and empirical base, this paper suggests that mobility as ‘becoming’ reflects the reshaping of international students through their aspirations for engaging in geographical, educational, cultural and ‘life’ border-crossing. This re-conceptualisation appears to imagine more for mobility than simply the movement across national borders for educational purposes.
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