Understanding international postgraduate students’ educational mobility to China: an ecological systematic perspective


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International educational mobility is often perceived as westward mobility for non-English speaking learners. This study explores an increasing trend of mobility from developed countries to mainland China from ecological systematic perspectives. Drawing on interviews with fourteen students from developed countries, the study explores the factors key to their choice to study postgraduate programmes in China and subsequent experiences. It reveals that students’ choice of mobility can be complex, diverse, and socially and culturally embedded. The process of choosing where to study becomes a journey: individual students rationalise their choice through self-negotiation and integrative consideration of personal aspirations, family influence, social environment, finance, and cultural differences. The study proposes a multi-layered ecological systematic approach to comprehensively understand why and how various factors affect their choice-making. The findings challenge the stereotyped privilege and elitism of western education, as studying in China has empowered students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access further education beyond their national borders. The implications for achieving equality via international educational mobility are discussed in this article.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Early online date23 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2021


  • International Students
  • educational mobility
  • postgraduate programmes
  • educational equality
  • China


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