Transnational Flows of Students

In whose interest? For whose benefits?

Authored by: Qing Gu , Michele Schweisfurth

Routledge Handbook of International Education and Development

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415747547
eBook ISBN: 9781315797007
Adobe ISBN: 9781317752240


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Student mobility is not a new phenomenon. Historical accounts of scholar exchanges and intercultural education can be traced back to 272 bc (Ward, Bochner and Furnham 2001). However, in modern times, the concepts, forms, focus and drivers of the internationalisation agenda have changed profoundly over time, from aid in the 1970s, cooperation and exchange in the 1980s to trade by the end of the 20th century (de Wit 2008). By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the competition for international students has intensified on a global scale (de Wit 2008; OECD 2008) and the study destinations for international mobile students have become increasingly diversified (UNESCO 2009). The latest report from OECD (2014) shows that over the last three decades, the population of mobile international students has risen from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to 4.5 million in 2012, representing a more than fivefold increase. However, it is the last decade that has seen the most rapid proliferation of international students worldwide. According to the statistics from UNESCO (2013), the number of students enrolled in educational institutions outside of their country of origin increased from 1.3 million in 1999 to 4.3 million in 2011, representing an increase of almost 70%. In response to the global expansion of internationalisation, since 2003 the International Association of Universities (IAU) has conducted four global surveys (2003, 2005, 2010, 2014) in more than 130 countries in every world region, and the results consistently show that student mobility is among the highest priority internationalisation activities within institutions. With regard to the destinations of student mobility, China, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand have emerged as new popular host countries, whilst some traditional ‘hot spots’ (e.g., the United States and Australia) have seen their favourable shares of the world’s mobile students decline (UNESCO 2009; OECD 2014). The general pattern, significantly and increasingly, is student movement from lower-income to higher-income countries.

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