Abstracts_A Sociology of Contemporary Chinese Mobilities

These are abstracts for the Sociological Review Foundation Seminar Series 2017 on ‘A Sociology of Contemporary Chinese Mobilities: Educating China on the Move’.

Seminar 1: Embodying China’s educational (im)mobilities: Ethnographic insights


  1. ‘Read ten thousand books, walk ten thousand miles’: Some ethnographic insights into China’s academic mobilities

Maggi Leung, Universiteit Utrecht, the Netherlands

International movements of scientists and researchers, like those of students, have become more common in the increasingly interconnected global knowledge economy. Geographic mobility is often perceived as a key to academic excellence and career advancement by scholars. This echoes the essence of a famous Chinese proverb ‘Read ten thousand books, walk ten thousand miles’. My paper will illustrate the motivations for, experiences and impact of international academic mobility among Chinese scholars. It contextualizes scholars’ desires to study-/work-travel and their journeys within broader institutional, policy and discursive frameworks, which span places and geographical scales in China and the host contexts (in my research: places and institutions in the USA, Germany and the Netherlands). My analyses draw on a number of my qualitative research projects and tacit knowledge accumulated as an international student and academic staff in the last two some decades. The paper will conclude with reflections on the co-production of ethnographic insights in the field of migration/mobility. In particular, I put forth the notion of ‘spatial-temporal reach’ to make sense of the complex, dynamic, deeply situated and often unplannable relationalities between researchers and their research participants. Episodes from my journey as a ‘mobile scholar researcher’ illustrate how sensitivity to (socio-)spatialities (as in insiderness-outsiderness) and temporalities (such as age, generation, life cycle, time and frequency of research contact) help us, as researchers, reflect on our positionalities, experiences and emotions in knowledge co-production with the people whom we study – which in turn, shape our understanding of our own identities.


  1. You chase I rush – Competition in two Chinese Schools

Anni Kajanus, London School of Economics and Harvard University

Being in a competition of some kind has come to form a backdrop for everyday moral experiences and aspirations in China. The education system with its exam-based meritocracy and high disparity between institutions and regions epitomizes this spirit, and the growing inequalities behind it. Children work under high pressure to compete for access to the best educational tracks, which, it is hoped, will lead to socioeconomic mobility and secure future. While the impact of this competition on various aspects of the changing systems of sociality and morality has been debated extensively, a detailed discussion of competitiveness itself is lacking. What patterns of competitive behavior and motivation emerge in these educational environments? What does competition mean to the children themselves, and how are these meanings embedded in wider socio-moral processes?

Drawing from ethnographic and experimental material, I compare the competitive modes of children in an urban middle-class school and a semi-rural working-class school. I contest the common association of competitiveness with individualism, and opposition between competition and cooperation. Further, I discuss the implications of the different modes of competitiveness to children’s educational mobility and wellbeing.


  1. State, market, international education, and youth (im)mobilities in Asia: A comparative study of Chinese “foreign talent” students in Singapore and Indian medical students in China

Peidong Yang

National Institute of Education, Singapore


Young people in today’s world are increasingly mobile geographically, and education is among the top reasons behind such a rise in youth mobility. While existing scholarship has mainly looked at educational mobilities involving Western destinations, this paper shifts the focus to Asia, in response to the rapidly evolving scene of educational mobility in this dynamic region. Specifically, this paper examines comparatively two cases of educational mobility that respectively involve students from China and India: (1) academically able youths from middle-class urban China recruited by Singapore as “foreign talent” scholars; and (2) academically less prepared Indian youths from lower-middle or working class backgrounds studying English-medium medical degrees (MBBS) in China.

In this paper, on top of unpacking the structural forces (mainly the state and the market) shaping and the conditions underlying both cases of mobility, I present various dimensions of the lived experiences of these two groups of mobile Asian youths. My account seeks to uncover the immobilities and frictions hidden within projects of educational mobility. I also highlight and contrast the differential access to mobility and the differentiated outcomes of mobility between the Chinese and Indian youths. It is argued that, accompanying the widening access to educational mobility in Asia, and probably elsewhere too, is a process of class-differentiation within this mobility field.


  1. Transborder habitus in bi-directional student migrations between mainland China and Hong Kong

Cora Lingling Xu

Keele University, UK

Over the past two decades, bi-directional cross-border student migrations between mainland China and Hong Kong have been on the rise. However, little is known about the lived experiences of such border-crossing individuals amid an increasingly tension-riven cross-border socio-political dynamic. Even less has been done to compare how students across both sides of the Hong Kong-mainland China border navigate their relative positioning when studying in the respective ‘other side’ higher education institutions. In this paper, I draw on ethnographic data from two parallel projects to explore the higher education trajectories of two groups of students, i.e. those from mainland China (n=31) studying in Hong Kong universities and those from Hong Kong (n=30) pursing degrees in mainland Chinese universities. Based on Pierre Bourdieu’s notions of field, capital and habitus, I examine the ‘transborder habitus’ of these two groups of students, particularly on how various social, cultural and political resources are differentially evaluated across the within-country border. This paper highlights inequalities operating at individual, institutional and state levels in such bi-directional student migrations.


Seminar 2: The landscape of Chinese educational (im)mobilities: Perspectives of larger-scale data


  1. Multiple Barriers– Gender, Hukou and Ethnic Effects on Social Mobility in China

Professor Yaojun Li

Department of Sociology and Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research,

School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, M13 9PL Yaojun.Li@manchester.ac.uk

For over half a century, social mobility in China has been hampered by the interplay of the household registration system (hukou), ethnic inequality and patriarchal ideology over and above the family origin effects. Have these influences have weakened during the reform ear or have they persisted or even strengthened? What are the patterns and trends of social mobility like in China? How important are gender, ethnic, hukou and family origin effects on people’s educational and occupational attainment?

This study aims to answer these questions by conducting a comprehensive analysis of social mobility in China focusing on parental class, gender, hukou and ethnic differences in people’s educational and occupational attainment in the last two decades. Using nine large-scale national representative social surveys between 1996 and 2014, the analysis shows that a small degree of social fluidity was visible but there were marked class, hukou and gender inequalities in education. In terms of occupational attainment, a largely similar profile obtains but with one important exception, namely, that ethnic minority women from higher family backgrounds outperformed all other groups in gaining access to the professional-managerial (salariat) positions. By contrast, ethnic minority women from peasant families were the least likely to find themselves in the salariat. Overall, class origin effects prove more resistant to change than do those associated with gender, ethnicity and hukou status when it comes to social mobility.


  1. International Faculty in selected Chinese Universities: Their demographic portraits, motivations, and academic work

Professor Futao Huang

Professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education

Hiroshima University, Japan

E-mail: futao@hiroshima-u.ac.jp

The purpose of this study is to explore main characteristics of international faculty being hired in Chinese leading universities, their motivations, academic work, especially the role they play.  By analyzing their personal, educational, and professional profiles which are publicly available, results of four case studies in different parts of China, as well as main points from interviews with international faculty and academic and administrative staff in their institutions, the study presents the following findings:  In terms of their demographic profiles, a huge majority of international faculty are male, doctoral holders, professors from engineering and natural science. A vast majority of them are citizens of the USA and obtained their doctoral degrees in the USA, the UK, Hong Kong, and other European countries, but nearly 90 percent of them used to be citizens of People’s Republic of China and earned their bachelor’s degrees in mainland China prior to their going abroad. As most of them are hired in Chinese leading universities based on national-level projects like One Hundred Talents Project, they are treated differently with their Chinese colleagues. In most cases, they are provided with an additional financial support and enjoy more favorable research and work conditions.  In relation to their motivations of coming to Chinese leading universities, they mainly include better salaries, research funding and favorable working condition, possible self-actualization, and willingness to making contribution to their home universities and mainland China.  Regarding the roles they play, despite differences between various universities, a majority of them concentrate on research activities, primarily undertaking national-level or even internationally collaborative research projects, publishing in indexed journals. Some of them are also expected to incorporate international dimension and content into university-wide curriculum and their courses, especially at doctoral education level, to build research capacity and level of their belonging universities or faculties, to form and expand international academic networking with international partners, and to produce and train young academics or doctoral students to be internationally recognized scholars.  The study concludes that only Push & Pull factors of immigration are not sufficient to explain why international faculty are hired in Chinese leading universities, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Social Capital and Social Networks, World-Systems Theory, and theory of Globalization should also be taken into consideration in this regard. Furthermore, as international faculty working in Chinese leading universities provide examples of new forms of international mobility of the academy, it is likely that Chinese strategy and practice of attracting international or global talents are of relevance and interest to other emerging countries in relation to internationalization.


  1. Educating China on the move: A typology of contemporary Chinese higher educational mobilities

Cora Lingling Xu and Professor Catherine Montgomery

As China’s economic power grows against a context of global uncertainty, it has become increasingly important to develop a nuanced understanding of Chinese globalisation, not least for its significance to the balance of power relations within and beyond East Asia. The previously dominant global hierarchy which mapped countries into geographic imaginaries of dominance and subservience is being disrupted and the competing ideologies of ‘the west is dominant’ against the potential of global pluralism are again coming to the fore. Higher education is an integral part of this and provides a powerful lens through which to view China’s developing global reach and its changing global relations and this is manifested in its many established and newer forms of educational mobilities. China is actively encouraging these mobilities and opening up its higher education market to the world. This paper proposes a typology which systematically analyses the complexities of contemporary Chinese higher educational mobilities, encompassing within-China, outbound and inbound mobilities. This typology reveals that while inbound and outbound mobilities are testament to the growing power and influence of China, mobilities are also deeply fraught with inequalities. When combined with the internal educational mobilities of China, the typology also highlights the persistent disadvantages experienced by marginalised groups, such as those from rural, working-class and ethnic minority backgrounds. It is suggested that unless these persistent inequalities are addressed, China and perhaps other emerging superpowers such as Brazil, India and South Africa, will struggle to challenge traditional global hierarchies.


  1. Go to Teach in Tibet: Incentives, Moralities and Dilemmas of China’s Inland TeachersMiaoyan Yang     Xiamen University 

    As one of China’s least developed lands, Tibet is of high concern in the state’s civilizing agenda. Geographic remoteness, high altitude, and lack of oxygen, nevertheless, have posed great challenges to this civilizing effort. In order to promote national integration and educational development in Tibet, the state has gradually developed a comprehensive “Educational Aid for Tibet” program, to either recruit Tibetan students to receive secondary education in inland schools, or to dispatch inland teachers to teach in Tibet schools over the past 30 years. Since 2016, a “Educational Aid for Tibet in Groups” plan (组团式教育援藏) has been initiated, which the state considers as an important political task and a critical move to “Gathering Support of Civilians” (聚民心). Every year, 800 teachers from key primary or secondary schools in 17 inland provinces (municipalities) are to teach in 20 Tibet schools for a short rotation varying from one to three years. Through this act, the state aims to significantly improve educational quality of certain local key schools in Tibet and expand its aid effect. Situated in the current educational aid for Tibet context, this study examines the incentives, moralities and dilemmas of Inland teachers teaching in Tibet schools. Document analyses, interviews with Tibet and inland teachers and school observations suggest two parallel lines of logic in their going to teach in Tibet decision-making: the pragmatic and the moral, both of which have confronted dilemmas when they were actually teaching in Tibet.


Seminar 3: Educating China on the move: China’s relations with key strategic powers

  1. Is internationalization of higher education dead in a ‘post-truth’ age? Critical Reflections of International Learning, Job Searches and Social Mobility in China

 Professor Ka Ho Mok

Vice President and Lam Man Tsan Chair Professor of Comparative Policy

Lingnan University, Hong Kong

While higher education continues to drive an outward looking, globally connected agenda, recent democratic elections taken place in the UK, Europe and North America could suggest that the voting public are placing more value on isolationism. Increasing concerns have emerged criticizing the internalization of higher education for intensifying social and educational inequalities, favouring the rich but marginalizing the poor. This paper sets against the wider context briefly outlined above to critically examine how Chinese students completing their university education in the UK or graduating from UK universities operated in China mainland evaluate their learning and job search experiences. This paper is based upon fieldwork conducted in China, with particular reference to university graduates’ reflections of how their international learning has enhanced their job searches and upward social mobility. This paper critically reflects on how the Chinese case would connect to the most recent debates of anti-globalism emerging across different parts of the world, especially when people begin to question the negative impacts of international education.


  1. Education as Aspiration: The example of China with/in Africa

Johanna L. Waters, University of Oxford

In this paper, I explore the changing spatialities of international higher education, with specific emphasis on the implications of this for south-south relations. In particular, the paper considers the notion that educational exchanges and involvements, which by-pass ‘traditional’ north-south colonial/post-colonial routes, offer an alternative (and welcome?) path for contemporary geographies of international higher education. The paper will consider whether this alternative perspective necessarily aligns with views expressed in recent work on postcolonial educational responsibility. The empirical focus of the paper is China – an emerging power when it comes to education as well as commerce. Especially intriguing is the way in which China frames its growing involvement in education within Africa as ‘south-south cooperation’, as a ‘win-win’ situation for both parties and it terms of aspirational goals (rather than the provision of ‘basic needs’). The paper considers the nascent academic literature on China’s involvement with education in Africa, before suggesting an agenda for future research in this area.


  1. Employability and mobility in cross-culture academic job search: the experiences and reflections of early-stage Chinese researchers

Dian Liu, University of Stavanger

The past two decades have witnessed the deepened internationalization process in higher education, leading to growing academic mobility in terms of postgraduate cultivation, and staff and student exchange across cultures, and China is of no exception. During the past 30 years, China has outputted a considerable number of graduates continuing the post-graduate study overseas, and a large portion of such population would prefer to stay aboard or at least gain some overseas working experiences upon their graduation. Nevertheless, in a competitive global labour market, job seekers experience more difficulties and hidden obstacles than those in a domestic labour market. Moreover, the employability as required in overseas job mobility also has wider references. This article examines the employability and mobility in a global labour market by targeting on a specific group of job seekers, the PhD graduates as early-stage researchers looking for academic jobs in the host countries. Following the ethnographic approach, this article traces back the job search process of 8 Chinese PhD graduates in Europe during the year 2016-2017, analyses the inequalities in an overseas academic labour market justified by regional economic crisis, and examines how these young researchers reflect upon their employment process.


  1. Chinese University Faculty in International Academic Mobility-Case studies of four universities in China

Lulu Sun

Institute of Education, University College London, Lulu.Sun.15@ucl.ac.uk

International academic mobility (IAM) is the most frequently addressed issue in the discourse of internationalisation. Main data and research covers international student mobility, however, the mobility of academics, which are active in higher education, have been given less limelight. In this case, the study investigates the international mobility experiences of Chinese university faculty. Case studies of four different types of universities were carried out in mainland China during Nov. 2016-Mar.2017. A mixed-method is used to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data collected from more than 500 web-based questionnaires and figures supplied by China Scholarship Council, together with interview data from more than 50 individual faculties and a purposive sample of 10 university leaders, are examined. Findings are expected to indicate what motivates university faculty to involve in long-term (3 months minimum) IAM, the impact of mobility experience brings towards faculty’s career progression and on the home institutions and to what extent the impact is. It is hoped the study will be helpful to give a much better base of IAM and provide a view for Chinese universities, policy practitioners and policy makers in the relative areas.


Transnational education at a juncture: Sociological futures post-Brexit

BSA Early Career Forum Regional Event on 2 May 2017, Keele University

To register, click here.

This one-day seminar seeks to serve as a platform to make important theoretical, empirical and methodological contributions to Transnational Education in a post-Brexit era.

We have put together an exciting programme on the day, including two keynote speeches by Professor Catherine Montgomery (University of Bath) and Dr Johanna L. Waters (University of Oxford).

Both the programme and the abstracts can be found below. To register for this seminar, click here.  For inquiries, please email Cora Lingling Xu at l.xu@keele.ac.uk  or Reza Gholami at r.gholami@keele.ac.uk.


9.30 Registration
10.00 Welcome
10.15 Keynote speech 1: Understanding educational futures post-Brexit: Transnational higher education and the rise of the East

Professor Catherine Montgomery, University of Bath

11:15 Brexit, universities and the ‘academic exodus’ discourse

Aline Courtois, Aniko Horvath, and Giulio Marini, IOE, UCL

11:45 Coffee Break
12:00 A game for the rich: Chinese middle class, family strategies, and capital conversion at cross-border joint-universities in China*

Yunyun Qin, University of Hong Kong, *Virtual presentation

12.30 Quo Vadis? Student mobility, European crisis and Brexit

Peter Jones, Keele University

13:00 Lunch
14.00 Keynote speech 2: Transnational education and new geographical imaginaries post-Brexit

Johanna L. Waters, University of Oxford

15.00 Transnational higher education (TNE) students finding their voice: The experts and ultimate insiders

Keith Pinn and Veronica Earle, University of Hertfordshire

15.30 Coffee Break
15:45 Weaponised TNE and the post-referendum ‘Empire 2.0’: a Bahraini case study Mike Diboll, IOE, UCL
16:15 The symbolic capital of English HE institutions at the wake of Brexit negotiations: Institutional strategies to guard against ‘isolationism’

Giulio Marini and Aline Courtois, IOE, UCL

16:45 Discussion and wrapping up
17.30 Close

Note: Post-seminar dinner/drinks at Sneyd Arms: if you plan to join on your own cost, please email Reza at r.gholami@keele.ac.uk by 28 April 2017 so we can book a table in advance.


Keynote speech 1

Understanding educational futures post-Brexit: Transnational higher education and the rise of the East

Professor Catherine Montgomery, University of Bath

Over past decades Transnational Higher Education (TNHE) programmes have centred on those originated in ‘western’ institutions with programmes being transferred from ‘the west’ to East Asian countries (Djerasmovic, 2014). However, the dominance of ‘the west’ as provider and controller of TNHE is increasingly being challenged by China and East Asia. The current political climate in Brexit-obsessed UK is building obstacles and barriers to international education with growing isolationism and tightening immigration controls for international students while China’s strategies smooth the way to higher educational mobility by introducing new measures allowing foreign students to stay on in China after their degrees to take up jobs or internships and reducing red tape around residence permits (Sharma, 2017). This paper will focus on the implications of China’s rapidly expanding TNHE and its massive investment in transnational campuses, both those built within China that bring the world to China and those built beyond China that reach out to the world (Montgomery, 2016). Against the context of UK-Brexit disarray and increasing isolationism in the USA, China is attracting international students from across East Asia, sources of students traditionally bound for ‘the west’. Some elite UK HEIs have the resources to develop new transnational strategies and relationships post-Brexit with Oxford University unveiling proposals to open a satellite base in Paris in a symbolic post-Brexit gesture (Yorke, 2017). Overall the battle for dominance in international education is a battle that the East will win and there will be implications for institutions, academics and students worldwide.

Keynote speech 2

Transnational education and new geographical imaginaries post-Brexit

Johanna L. Waters, University of Oxford

 In this presentation, I consider the ‘geo-social’ implications of a post-Brexit world (after Ho, 2017), with specific reference to emergent geographical imaginaries and transnational higher education (TNHE). Brexit-related discourses, prevalent within the British media on the lead-up to the referendum, presented a sometimes insular, parochial and nationalistic view of UK affairs, which could be extended to discussions of higher education. However, there have been nascent signs that Brexit might pave the way for a greater number of (not fewer) ‘educational’ engagements with other countries outside of the EU. Brexit may initiate and forge unconventional, less traditional relationships around education with a greater diversity of ‘foreign’ players. Consequently, the geo-social map relating to international and transnational education might be re-written in interesting and provocative ways. I draw on my own empirical work, and that of others, to consider: a) why a geo-social perspective on TNHE might be both interesting and important; b) how countries such as China are already challenging conventional geo-social relationships when it comes to international engagements in education; and c) how we might speculate on the consequences of Brexit for the UK’s changing geographical imaginaries around TNHE.


 Brexit, universities and the ‘academic exodus’ discourse

Aline Courtois, Aniko Horvath, and Giulio Marini, IOE, UCL

 As soon as the referendum results were announced, British universities made their fears about the negative impact of Brexit known. The retention of EU staff has featured prominently among the concerns they disclosed to the media. Universities communicated extensively on the value they attached to their EU, and more broadly non-UK staff, and some promised to assist such staff should Brexit have implications on their residency status.

However, these discourses mask a number of issues. Higher education is the sector that uses zero-hour contracts the most, after the hospitality industry (Butler 2013; UCU 2016). These contracts designate workers as transient, disposable, ‘guest workers’ within the academy. Their very transience (sometimes embedded in their career strategies [Khattab and Fenton 2016]) disqualifies them from challenging their employment conditions in any meaningful way. Even tenured staff see their employment security threatened as universities implement performance measures, on which the continuation of their employment depends. Thus, the staff retention discourse co-exists with aggressive practices aimed at increasing employment insecurity.

The UK academic market is segmented, and only the ‘stars’ in the top tier have the power to negotiate their salaries and working conditions (Paye 2015). Furthermore, while several EU academics have spoken publicly about their desire to leave the UK, a key question for many is: where to? The casualisation and segmentation of the academic markets in other English-speaking countries (Australia: Ryan et al 2013; Canada: Bauder 2006; Ireland: Courtois and O’Keefe 2015; the US: Berry 2005) make them unlikely destinations for those already marginalised in UK academia. Other European countries are exporters rather than importers of academics; and low-pay, insecure work is becoming the norm (the Netherlands: Bal, Grassiani and Kirk 2014, Finland: Nikunen 2014; France: PECRES 2011).

Finally, as shown by Khattab and Fenton (2016), non-UK workers are concentrated in the lower ranks of the university, in particular temporary research positions; while permanent (or more stable) positions are more commonly filled by UK citizens. The most precarious workers are those likely to also be in precarious positions in relation to their immigration status, with the added difficulty that holding temporary, part-time positions makes it more difficult to negotiate residency. In this sense, these workers may find themselves at the intersection of employment insecurity (academic non-citizenship) and non-citizenship; with fears that Brexit amplifies the vulnerability of those with limited claims to ‘flexible citizenship’ (see Ong 2006).

Based on critical discourse analysis, the proposed paper aims to deconstruct the dominant discourse produced by universities by re-centring the conversation on the relations of subordination and exploitation that exist in the university as a workplace, and how these intersect with broader issues of citizenship.


A game for the rich: Chinese middle class, family strategies, and capital conversion at cross-border joint-universities in China*

Yunyun Qin, University of Hong Kong, *Virtual presentation

 The cross-border higher education in Mainland China is growing fast. Data from Chinese Ministry of Education shows that there are currently around 2,000 cross-border joint educational programs and institutes on the Mainland China. Among the existing literature, few studies addressed the issue of social justice in cross-border joint-universities, particularly the role of these universities in promoting or hindering social mobility in the current Chinese society. The purpose of this research is an attempt to respond the issue of social justice by analyzing the process of capital conversion in students’ life experiences from admission to graduation and the strategies the Chinese middle class families employ to facilitate the conversion procedure by applying Bourdieu’s theory of social and cultural reproduction. The data are mainly from ethnographic field notes, in-depth interviews, participant observation, and various organizational documents in a cross-border joint-university on the Mainland China. This research argues that the cross-border joint-universities and the Chinese middle class families develop a collusion relationship to facilitate the students’ capital conversion and further preserve economic inequalities and differences in social status. In this capital conversion game, the economic capital plays a central role. Although the cross-border joint-universities provide Chinese students more choices of university education, the choices are mainly for the rich.

Quo Vadis? Student mobility, European crisis and Brexit

Peter Jones, Keele University

 With a focus on patterns of student mobility, this paper sets out to examine the issues which have been thrown into sharp relief by the unfolding crisis of the European Union since 2008 and the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, namely the legitimacy and popular support for the European project itself.   The paper presents the patterns of where students move from and to, with relatively thin regionalisation evidenced by increasingly even patterns of flow, going hand in hand with increasing concentration in dominant economic, political and cultural spaces. Having identified the patterns of student mobility, the paper then moves on to critically examine the claims made about what these patterns should be like: this essentially amounts to the ideology of Europeanism within the  flat free-market space of the European Union. Given the extent of the unfolding crisis for the European Union, of which the vote for Brexit was only one example, and in particular  the turbulence in the  peripheral countries of the South and East,  as evidenced by the so-called populism, revanchism and nationalism in the political sphere, the paper argues that  continuing rhetorical and material support for student mobility, will need to confront the reality of  renewed questioning of who goes where and  why,  with which  benefits  and for whom?


Transnational higher education (TNE) students finding their voice: The experts and ultimate insiders

Keith Pinn and Veronica Earle, University of Hertfordshire

 There is a relative lack of recognition in published work relating to the TNE student voice and their experiences at undergraduate level. As Hoare (2012) stated, “We know little about their preferences, even less about the outcomes that they attribute to their TNE experience and nothing in any depth about their longer term career and life trajectories”. TNE students have, therefore, not fully had their voices heard (Caruana and Montgomery, 2015). The University of Hertfordshire is carrying out research in Malaysia with its biggest partner to find out from students what they perceive to be the benefits and challenges on their TNE journey. As part of this research we are keen to find out why students value studying on a UK franchised programme and what the host and sending institutions can learn from student experiences in order to deliver a high-quality student experience. Although the research is continuing we are happy to share some of our preliminary findings. If recognised more and better understood, the student voice could prove invaluable in contributing to the improvement of TNE programmes.

 Weaponised TNE and the post-referendum ‘Empire 2.0’: a Bahraini case study

Mike Diboll, IOE, UCL

 This paper will explore the political and crypto-colonial dimensions of UK state-backed TNE, focusing on the use of higher education consultancy and related activities in relation to Bahrain.

Since the British and Saudi-backed suppression of the 2011 Bahrain Uprising, UK education and higher education initiatives have emerged as a crucial area of ‘softpower’ projection used to shore up the legitimacy of the pro-British Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain, to maintain, deepen and extend dependent, centre-periphery relations between the UK, Bahrain and the neighbouring Gulf states, and to lend credibility to Britain’s claim to be an agent for ‘reform’ in the Gulf client-state.

Following the June 2016 plebiscite on the UK’s Membership of the European Union and the subsequent political pressure for a ‘hard’ Brexit, the current Conservative government has spoken explicitly establishing an ‘Empire 2.0’ as a way of making good trade losses with the EU, with intensifying trade relations with the Gulf States – in every sector from arms, securitisation and surveillance to education and higher education – as a key part of this project.

Referencing the experiences of current and former Bahraini students studying in Bahrain and/or the UK, this paper will explore the problematic ethical, pedagogic, political and professional ramifications of a ‘weaponised’ TNE, used to extend and deepen crypto-colonial relations in a context of institutionalised sectarianism, so that educational and higher educational ‘reform’ becomes an enabler of structural violence.

Finally, this paper will problematize the reciprocal part of this dialectic: the Gulf States’ softpower investment in UK higher education, especially in areas such as Gulf, Middle Eastern, or Islamic studies.

As such, this paper will provide a case study of TNE in the neo-Imperial context of ‘Empire 2.0’.

The symbolic capital of English HE institutions at the wake of Brexit negotiations: Institutional strategies to guard against ‘isolationism’

Giulio Marini and Aline Courtois, IOE, UCL

 With the referendum held in June 2016 the UK chose to leave the European Union. Although negotiations are on-going and post-Brexit outcomes for the UK are hard to predict, many sectors are already devising plans to cope with such a strategic move. The UK HE sector, seen as one of the most successful in Europe and beyond, is linked with strong ties to continental Europe in student intake, research staff and international collaborations, often achieved through European partnership and funding schemes (e.g. Erasmus Program, European funding agencies and the like). The only point that seems to be clear at the moment is that Brexit cannot be neutral for UK HE, considering the ongoing regionalisation of the sector (Robertson et al. 2016; EC 2014) and that regular institutional improvements of current strategies (Smith 2010) cannot be sufficient. Moreover, it is clear that – even if not openly acknowledged – the general stance is a defensive one, as the White Paper “Ensuring the United Kingdom remains the best place for science and innovation in Brexit trajectory” implies in its title and in some details in the 10th point dedicated to HE and science.

In this paper we focus on the symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1989) held by English institutions and their different strategies in dealing with the necessity to keep untouched and not eroded their peculiar sphere of prestige through probably reformulated strategies. Although we agree that prestige is substantially tied-up and not subjected to quick changes (Blackmore 2016), we explore strategies in a context that differs from recent analysis (Holstein et al. 2016). Instead of competing for resources in a market context (Brewer et al. 2001), we maintain Brexit imposes the necessity to assure resources in different ways, changing rapidly and in a very uncertain environment: for example, the sudden necessity to replace key resources at institutional level, such as EU funding for local development or intake of EU students in ‘less prestigious’ universities, or retention of successful scientists with EU passports for more research intensive institutions.

The data for the paper comes from qualitative interviews conducted with top and medium-level management in a selection of UK HE institutions, varied by size and ‘reputational’ standing. The analytical method adopted is that of Critical Discourse Analysis (Smith 2014) as it best fits the analysis of discourses on specific plans and strategies, when they are still in a phase of preparation and can be collected only under a very sever confidential pattern and from leaders of institutions in charge of coping with changing conditions. The emphasis over discourse is coherent with the assumption by Bourdieu that symbolic capital is the semantic construction that harmonises the other types of capitals. From a HE point of view, the object of the paper is the emergence of a new game of (plural and differentiated) implementation(s) inside and outside institutions and/or HE national system.





A Sociology of Contemporary Chinese Mobilities: Educating China on the Move


A Sociological Review Foundation Seminar Series

Funded by The Sociological Review Foundation

Organised by Keele University and University of Bath

Co-hosted by King’s College London

Organisers: Dr Cora Lingling Xu (Keele University) and Professor Catherine Montgomery (University of Bath)

For abstracts of all papers in this seminar series, please click here.

With the quickening pace of economic development in China and the overall shift in political economy globally, China’s approaches towards globalisation, as manifested in its many new forms of mobilities, can have far-reaching social and political impacts on China itself, on Asia and the rest of the world. To date, however, little research has been done to facilitate a systematic sociological understanding of the complex relationships between the Chinese modes of globalisation and their impacts on social change and development of Chinese societies, and the rest of the world.

Taking education as a vehicle, this series of three seminars seeks to answer key questions including:

  • What are the current trends of educational mobilities within and across China?
  • How do group mobilities for education work and what are the impacts on the individuals, the country, and the rest of the world?
  • What does it mean to be educationally (im)mobile in China?
  • How will educational (im)mobilities within and beyond China develop in the future?

Educating China On The Move_Poster 1-1

 Seminar 1: Embodying China’s educational (im)mobilities: Ethnographic insights

Registration is free of charge. Complimentary lunch and refreshments will be provided. Please register here.

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Date: Wednesday 20 September 2017

Venue: CM 0.12, Claus Moser Building, Keele University, ST5 5BG

Time: 12 noon to 5 pm

Confirmed speakers include: Dr Maggi Leung (Universiteit Utrecht), Dr Anni Kajanus (London School of Economics and Harvard University), Dr Peidong Yang (Nanyang Technological University) and Dr Cora Lingling Xu (Keele University)Programme on 20 September 2017_Sociological Review Seminar at Keele-1


In this first seminar, our speakers will focus on the nuanced, day-to-day corporal experiences of individuals involved in the processes of China’s educational (im)mobilities. The political and social migration in China will be foregrounded because of the significance of migration to issues of class stratification/urban and rural divide. We will invite speakers to share their empirical insights into the embodied experiences, struggles and benefits of social agents undergoing various forms of educational mobilities or education in situ within the Chinese contexts. Such individuals can include migrants, international students and/or academics from and within China, Chinese and foreign students or scholars on international branch campuses or collaborative programmes in China and/or students and academics who move across different regions of China.

Educating China On The Move_Poster 2-1

Seminar 2: The landscape of Chinese educational (im)mobilities: Perspectives of larger-scale data

Registration is free of charge. Complimentary lunch and refreshments will be provided. Please register here.

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Date: 9 November 2017

Venue: River Room, Strand Campus, King’s College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS

Time: 11 am to 4 pm

Confirmed speakers include: Professor Yaojun Li (Manchester University), Professor Futao Huang (Hiroshima University, Japan), Professor Catherine Montgomery (University of Bath), Dr Cora Lingling Xu (Keele University), Dr Miaoyan Yang (Xiamen University, China)


In this seminar, papers will employ larger-scale data to recognise and outline the broad trends of education (im)mobilities within and beyond China. We will focus on interrogating how, if at all, social inequalities are reduced or reproduced through various forms of education (im)mobilities. We will question whether by focusing on (im)mobilities, we are valorising certain forms of educational trajectories over other less prominent forms. Methodologically, we will address the difficulties with getting hold of high quality large-scale data with Chinese contexts. By the end of this seminar we will have a more critical understanding regarding the merits and pitfalls of the grand narratives of educational (im)mobilities within the Chinese contexts.

Educating China On The Move_Poster 3-1

Seminar 3: Educating China on the move: China’s relations with key strategic powers

Registration is free of charge. Complimentary lunch and refreshments will be provided. Please register here.

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Date: Friday 1 December 2017

Venue: University of Bath

Time: 12 noon to 5 pm

Confirmed speakers include: Professor Ka Ho Mok (Lingnan University, Hong Kong), Dr Johanna L. Waters (Oxford University), Dr Dian Liu (University of Stavanger, Norway), Lulu Sun (IOE, UCL)

In this seminar, we will focus on China’s role as an education provider for mobile students and scholars in Asia and Africa. Our papers will investigate the impacts of educational (im)mobilities between China and such key strategic powers in Asia and Africa. There are compelling reasons to believe that the emerging political and economic ties between China and these above-mentioned powers have significant influences on individuals’ decisions over education (im)mobilities. By the end of this seminar we will have a greater understanding of the intricate relations between individual educational mobilities trajectories and inter-state dynamics in the regions and this will provide a significant insight for countries in the Global North.