Internationally mobile students remain the least studied category of migrants despite the remarkable growth in the numbers of students who choose to study abroad. With 8% of 4 million internationally mobile students originating from post-Soviet countries, very little is known about the macroeconomic factors that may push young people from this region to pursue undergraduate education abroad, or the most popular destination countries for them.
The countries that are included in my study constituted the Soviet Union for the most of the 20th century. This meant that opportunities of international migration were extremely scarce for all population groups. More than two decades after dissolution from the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moldova (14%) and Azerbaijan (11%) have the largest proportions of students studying abroad, while Russia (1%) and Ukraine (2%) have the smallest proportions.
I used the secondary numeric data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics and the World Bank’s World Development Indicators to examine the most popular destinations for undergraduates and the associations between macroeconomic contexts of student home countries and the proportion of their students studying abroad.
Young people do not scatter randomly across the world. Post-Soviet students mostly migrate to the countries within the same region. Scrutinising the characteristics of the five most popular destinations revealed that colonial ties with Russia, destination countries’ economic development and tertiary education quality, as well as geographic distance from home to host country could be some of the key factors associated with destination country choices.
When accounting for the effects of the population size and the GDP per capita, countries with lower tertiary system capacity and lower labour market participation rates were more likely to have higher proportions of students studying abroad. The regression model explained 77% of the variation in student mobility.
These findings have important implications for individual students and individual states. Individuals usually seek educational and/or labour market opportunities abroad in order to improve their well-being. Such decisions, if made by large proportions of people who choose to become labour migrants, arguably impede the development of peripheral countries. The majority of post-Soviet states can indeed be considered to be peripheral, according to world-systems theory. My study raised questions related to the investment in national tertiary education systems and how this may relate to retaining talented people, the inclinations of small states towards being outward-looking, borderless higher education and brain drain to argue that the interests of states need to be viewed as collective interests of individuals that these states represent. Policies need to be oriented to the interests of individuals and should seek to engage them in such a way as to maximise the benefits of student mobility for home countries.
Study abroad opportunities that expand individuals’ human capital and broaden their horizon, may be particularly valuable for those students who come from countries with relatively low tertiary system capacity and underdeveloped labour market opportunities for young people. If the socio-economically less privileged from post-Soviet countries are largely excluded from the opportunity to study abroad, as is the case in many European countries, the globalised pursuit of tertiary education may be reproducing (dis)advantage in these societies and increasing inequality in access to university.
Therefore, student migration from countries with relatively limited labour market and tertiary education opportunities may be contributing to the stagnation or deterioration of their development, on the one hand, and aggravation of individual-level inequalities, on the other hand. However, because student mobility may provide an escape route to young people, the value that it carries for individuals who do embrace it cannot be underestimated. Thus, migration is about the search for opportunities in the same way as it is about the exclusion from opportunities. Furthermore, migration can be about the escape from exclusion.
Chankseliani, M. (2015). “Escaping homelands with limited employment and tertiary education opportunities: Outbound student mobility from post-Soviet countries”. Population, Space and Place. http://doi.org/10.1002/psp.1932