Student mobility is part of the increasing internationalisation of higher education in the 21stcentury, being used by many as a stepping-stone for a career away from the country of birth. Despite acknowledgement of its contribution to human development and to a country’s economic development, this form of mobility is highly complex. For many of those involved, it represents a process of transformation underpinned by multiple factors and concluding with a decision whether or not to adopt migrant status. This research focuses on international PhD student mobility, a topic overlooked generally in the literature. The aim is to identify structural and agency factors influencing international mobility and to elicit how these impact on students’ capabilities to become mobile. From a theoretical perspective, this is achieved by drawing upon Structuration Theory together with the Capability Approach and applying these in the context of PhD students from Turkey in the UK.
The findings, derived from 45 semi-structural interviews at macro and micro levels, reveal that political and socio-cultural factors are the main concerns of students with non-return plans to Turkey. Whilst political factors, particularly political freedoms and discrimination, lead to restrictions on academic and employment capabilities, socio-cultural ones, including family and societal pressure, as well as division and polarisation in Turkey, limit students’ capabilities in terms of freedom of life-style choice. With agency factors, ethnicity restricts the capability of expression of identity, whilst the level of acquired capability of independence varies according to gender. These differences provide evidence that agency factors play a significant role in mobility and thus it is essential that future work should include the capabilities of individuals, as well as micro level factors. Further, it is elicited that studying abroad enhances the capability of becoming a cosmopolitan citizen and, hence, being mobile.
The conclusion drawn is that student mobility depends on whether a country can provide the opportunity for capabilities (freedoms/power) to flourish, with minimal perceived insecurity. For many participants, neither Turkey nor the UK was the country where they felt they could exploit their capabilities and they were looking for opportunities in third countries. This was owing to the lack of freedom in many aspects of life in Turkey and the strict migration policies’ in UK.
The current study provides an extended framework for understanding the impact of structural and agency factors on mobility and the capabilities associated with mobility. Mobility groups identified are: for non-return students, Impo-Mobile, Voluntarily Mobile or Hyper Mobile; and for return students, Constant Immobile or Inconstant Immobile. The thesis can provide valuable pointers for further research and inform government policies on how to attract highly qualified individuals.