Uncovering the patterns of international student mobility (ISM) and the dynamics shaping these patterns have been among the top concerns of higher education policy makers and educational researchers. Particularly since the 1990s, scholars have sought to locate patterns in ISM (Barnett and Wu 1995; Chen and Barnett 2000; Jiang 2014), and to identify the factors that prompt students to choose one particular country and avoid others. This has given rise to a broad body of research dedicated to understanding the dynamics behind students’ choice of countries, and has raised interest in networks analysis (Barnett et al. 2016).
Several studies conducted over the last twenty years suggest that the main pattern of ISM follows an East–West axis, wherein Asian countries are the main senders while economically developed countries with popular languages (e.g., English, German, French, and Spanish) are the main receivers (Barnett and Wu 1995; Chen and Barnett 2000; Barnett et al. 2016; OECD 2015). These findings support a core–periphery distinction in ISM. Although this pattern of mobility has been prevalent over the last two decades, the same studies have also identified several increasing deviations from the main pattern of student mobility, which in turn raises questions about this core–periphery distinction. The first deviation is that main players such as the USA and Germany have been experiencing a decline in the number of students they receive (OECD 2015). The second development is that several Asian countries have increased their receiver role while African countries have reinforced their sender role (Barnett et al. 2016; Jon et al. 2014). On the other hand, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the enlargement of the European Union (EU) in the first half of the 2000s resulted in greater ISM dynamism both in key EU countries (i.e., Germany, France, the UK and Italy) and in Russia (Chen and Barnett 2000; Jon et al. 2014). These recent trends reveal further deviation from Western-oriented ISM, as well as the increasing role of Eastern countries. In one recent analysis, Barnett et al. (2016) argued that the current patterns of ISM are formed around language and culture.
Despite these trends and developments, the literature still conveys a strong “traditional destination” or Western perspective in ISM; that is, student mobility is only directed towards Western countries, the size and direction of student flow is shaped by intentional policies, and student mobility in every country is guided by an economic rationale. In other words, the literature at large has overlooked developments in the periphery. Shaped by economic, social, and political developments over the last two decades—including 9/11, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the enlargement policy of the EU, and more recently the rise of new economic powers (BRIC)—new trends have emerged in ISM based on different forms and rationales of internationalization. Altbach and de Wit (2015) pointed to the rise of nationalism and different forms of fundamentalism as another development impacting ISM.
The increasing number of studies on ISM, very little is known about the patterns and tracks international students follow in their study abroad choices. Studies in this field largely hold similar analytical approaches and report similar results, giving the impressions that patterns of mobility are stable. As a result, there is a gap in the literature with regard to ISM patterns in the periphery. To address this, the present study bases its social network analysis on a comprehensive worldwide dataset by UNESCO with the intention of revealing global patterns in ISM and elaborating the dynamics shaping these patterns, with an emphasis on the peripheral country context.
Altbach, P. & de Wit, H. (2015). Internationalization and global tension: Lessons from history. Journal of Studies in International Education, 19(1), 4–10. Barnett, G. A., Lee, M., Jiang, K. & Park, H. W. (2016). The flow of international students from a macro perspective: a network analysis. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 46(4), 533–559. Barnett, G. A. & Wu, R.Y. (1995). The international student exchange network: 1970 & 1989. Higher Education, 30, 353–368. Chen, T. M. & Barnett, G. A. (2000). Research on international student flows from a macro perspective: A network analysis of 1985, 1989 and 1995. Higher Education 39(4), 435–453. Jiang, K. (2014). International student flows between Asia, Australia, and Russia: A network analysis. Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia 13(1), 83–98. Knight, J. & Morshidi, S. (2011). The complexities and challenges of regional education hubs: Focus on Malaysia. Higher Education, 62, 593–606. Moreno, J. L. (1953). Who shall survive? Beacon, NY: Beacon House. OECD. (2015). Education at Glance 2015: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en Polites, G. L. & Watson, R. T. (2008). The centrality and prestige of CACM. Communications of the ACM, 51(1), 95–100. https://doi.org/10.1145/1327452.1327454 Wasserman, S. & Faust, K. (1994). Social network analysis - methods and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Zawacki-Richter, O. & Anderson, T. (2011). The geography of distance education - bibliographic characteristics of a journal network. Distance Education, 32(3), 441–456.
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