International student mobility decision-making in a European context

Talitha Dubow, Katrin Marchand & Melissa Siegel


This paper contributes to existing theoretical and empirical understandings of international student mobility (ISM) decision-making. Drawing on interview and focus group data from 115 current and former 'student migrants' in the EU (from both EU and non-EU countries of origin), it provides an in-depth, international comparative analysis of ISM decision-making. It addresses three questions: 1) What motivates the decision to study abroad in the EU, and how do these motivations vary across different countries of origin?; 2) How does the decision to study abroad relate to the student's initial aspirations (i.e. formed prior to starting their foreign study programme) regarding their post-study (im)mobility?; and 3) How are post-study (im)mobility aspirations (re)shaped over the course of the student's foreign study programme? The relevance of existing theorisations of ISM decision-making is tested in relation to student inflows from different countries of origin. The results highlight the ways in which individual decisions to study abroad do not necessarily align with a single decision-making model but are rather often determined by multiple and interacting considerations. The findings further existing knowledge on: 1) the ways in which international student decision-making relate to the social, cultural, economic and political environments in which these decisions are made; and 2) how international student decision-making relates to the student's broader and evolving life aspirations.

JEL Classification: F22, I23, 126, J15, J24, J61, O15

Keywords: Higher education, migrant decision-making, student mobility, EU mobility