RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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388 Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations (2)
Affiliation Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group
Convenor(s) Rachel Brooks (University of Surrey, UK)
Johanna Waters (University of Oxford, UK)
Chair(s) Johanna Waters (University of Oxford, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Huxley Building, Room 341
Session abstract Many scholars have argued that, in contemporary society, higher education policy and practice have both been profoundly changed by globalising pressures. Indeed, some have contended that the state’s capacity to control education has been significantly limited by the growth of both international organisations and transnational companies (Ball, 2007) and that the three traditional models of university education in Europe (Humboldtian, Napoleonic and Anglo-Saxon) have been replaced by a single Anglo-American model, characterised by, inter alia, competition, marketisation, decentralisation and a focus on entrepreneurial activity. Nevertheless, this analysis is not universally held. For example, not all European nations have sought to establish elite universities or maximise revenue through attracting international students, and significant differences remain in the way in which higher education is funded. In explaining such variations, scholars have pointed to differences in political dynamics, politico-administrative structures and intellectual traditions, as well as the flexibility and mutability of neo-liberal ideas themselves. However, research to date has focussed primarily on the extent of convergence (or divergence) with respect to top-level policies; as a result, little work has explored the perspectives of social actors, nor the ways in which policy may be ‘enacted’ locally, in ways that diverge from formal policy documents.

In this session we bring together papers that explore the ways in which ‘the higher education student’ is constructed across different spatial contexts. We include papers that draw on data derived from students themselves, as well as from other social actors (such as the media, policymakers and higher education staff). We anticipate that they will speak to debates about what it means to be a young person within the contemporary university, as well as to those that relate more specifically to the geographies of higher education.
Linked Sessions Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Constructing the international student in UK policy: the neocolonial subject
Sylvie Lomer (The University of Manchester, UK)
International students have been actively recruited to the UK over the last 20 years, at first by institutions and later in coordinated government initiatives. Although recent political positions have become increasingly hostile, there is still a strong imperative to recruit from overseas as part of an industrial strategy for higher education. These policy discourses construct representations of international students. This paper argues that these representations, while multiple and at times contradictory, can be understood as neocolonial subjectifications. Policy represents students as diverse by virtue of their national origin, as vehicles for political influence, as migrants, and as sources of financial worth. These constructions share the same fundamental premise: that the UK should recruit international students to the extent that they or their presence ‘contributes’ or transfers value or influence to the UK. Such a relationship transfers money from the global economy to the UK, perpetuating relies on historical and existing post imperial power dynamics. It could be seen as exploitative of international students and of emerging economies. Alternative framings could construct international higher education as a mutual exchange between equals, as a globalist obligation incumbent on all countries, or as a site for humanistic engaged pedagogy.
A critical analysis of the Palestinian educational student im/mobility
Nancy Amoudi (Leeds Beckett University, UK)
This PhD seeks to examine the Arab student diaspora and their educational mobilities with particular focus on students from Palestine, studying in the city of Leeds. Whilst migrating to a new and foreign country is at often times an exciting and rich event, the experience can also be constrained by uncertainty and disorientation of navigating your way around new cultures and unfamiliar social norms. As residents in a foreign country, international students in the UK face a new world that is, in most cases, vastly dissimilar from the familiar environment of their home countries. This paper sets out to explore in particular, some of the constraints within the new and unfamiliar cultural and academic domains that Palestinian students may find themselves struggling in. As a sizeable sub-group of international students, Palestinians are under-represented in investigations of international student mobility. Due to generating from a politically unstable region, the effects this seems to have caused to Palestinian students when attempting to function in a more stable environment such as the UK are beyond the limits experienced by non-Palestinians.

The main aim of this PhD study is to contribute qualitatively towards a critical understanding of the various implications of Palestinian students’ transition into a new study environment, exploring aspects of enculturation, cultural adaptation, adjustments, language, personal and academic challenges and identity. As there has been a recent upsurge in mobilities research relating to embodied movement, and a corresponding interest in adapting methods to acquire data while on the move, the methodological emphasis in this paper is a mobile method called ‘go-along’ which has been utilized as a novel qualitative research tool. What makes go-along unique is that ethnographers are able to observe their informants’ spatial practices in situ while accessing their experiences and interpretations at the same time. This study utilizes go-along interviews to obtain Palestinian students’ contextualized experiences of living and studying in the UK. A series of 17 go-along interviews were conducted with students from various academic stages of their studying program to help effectively capture their attitude and behaviour as well as in documenting the gradual shift at each stage. Not only did the use of mobile methods bring greater phenomenological sensibility to this study, it also added value to the research because, the phenomenological potential of this empirical approach is yet to be fully explored.
Academic mobility and precarity: study abroad as escape or emplacement among political actors
Rika Theo (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
Maggi Leung (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
International students and scholars are generally viewed as an unproblematic migrant category in both policy and academic discourses. In most cases, these individuals are constructed as young and free-moving economic subjects. Our paper underlines the linkage between academic mobility and precarity. In particular, we focus on the political/politicised nature of the international education field. Precarity is understood here in relation to ‘life worlds that are inflected with uncertainty and instability’ (Waite, 2009). Drawing on our work on Indonesia and Chinese students and scholars, our paper brings forth the experiences of students and scholars in exile, whose experiences have been sidelined in academic mobility research. We present stories from students and scholars who could escape from repressive regimes with a scholarship to Germany, for example in China or Turkey. Their stories stimulate our (re)thinking about the role of states in academic mobility. In particular, we present our oral history fieldwork data of a group of Indonesians who were trapped abroad during their overseas study when Suharto’s New Order took over Sukarno’s Guided Democracy regime in 1965-66. This dramatic turn in Indonesia’s domestic politics and international relations redefined the life trajectories of thousands of Indonesian leftists who were mainly studying in China and the USSR. As the Cold War politics evolved, these exiles were then scattered across states in Asia and Europe in their search for political refuge. For decades these exiles have organised their informal exile group, written a wide range of material, and shared in different ways about their experiences as well as their analyses of Indonesian homeland politics. Their sharing has also reached generations of Indonesia students who have had the chance to learn about a particular/alternative part of Indonesian politics, history and society while being away from home. Mapping these overlapping student mobility trajectories that stretch across time and space, we conclude our paper with a few conceptual and methodological reflections.
Implementing Study-to-work Policies for International Students in Switzerland: To what Extent are Federal Policies Re-interpreted at the Local Level?
Yvonne Riaño (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
Understanding the forces that shape the character and dynamics of international student mobility has recently preoccupied researchers. Academics have recognized the important role of migration policies in regulating the extent and character of international student flows. However, research in this new field remains scant. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the on-going debate by examining "study-to-work" policies in Switzerland. These policies refer to enabling students to stay in the country of study as skilled migrants after completing their studies. As we know, several governments around the globe view international students as valuable future skilled migrants because contrary to newly arrived highly-skilled immigrants, who often face adaptation difficulties and discrimination, international students get prepared for the domestic labour market during their studies. Switzerland is no exception. In 2010, the Swiss parliament passed the "Neirynck initiative", which entered into force on 1st of January 2011, allowing international students who were successful in securing employment within a period of six months after their graduation, to obtain a work permit and remain in the country.

Shore & Wright (2011:20) understand policies as "instruments of governance" and argue that policies that are designed to be implemented at different administrative levels are "not simply transferred" from one level to the other but are reinterpreted by the actors involved "as they travel across cultural boundaries". If we apply this approach to our case, it means that work-to-study policies, which are formulated in Switzerland at the federal level, may be re-interpreted by cantonal authorities in ways that diverge from formal policy documents. Following such a hypothesis, we formulate the following questions: (a) How is the Neyrinck work-to-study policy understood and implemented by key actors at the federal and cantonal levels of government? (b) To what extent is the Neyrinck policy reinterpreted by cantonal authorities in its practical implementation? (c) What types of tensions exist between the two levels of government regarding policies of student mobility? These questions are examined through expert interviews with key actors at the federal and cantonal levels, as well as by content analysis of policy texts.
The construction and spatial positioning of higher education students in English policy documents
Rachel Brooks (University of Surrey, UK)
Drawing on a discursive analysis of policy texts – produced by government, business/employers’ organisations and staff and student unions – this paper investigates the ways in which students are constructed in contemporary English higher education policy. First, it contends that, contrary to assumptions made in the academic literature, students are not conceptualised as ‘empowered consumers’; instead their vulnerability is emphasised by both government and unions. However, whereas this vulnerability is attributed to processes of market reform within the union documents, for the government, it is a consequence of insufficient marketization. Second, it identifies other dominant discourses – namely that of ‘future worker’ and ‘hard-worker’. These articulate with extant debates about both the repositioning of higher education as an economic good, and the use of the ‘hard-working’ trope across other areas of social policy. Third, it shows that important differences are drawn between groups of students (related to their spatial positioning). For domestic students, this is largely with respect to whether they are deemed ‘hard-working’ or not. More extreme contrasts are drawn between international students, juxtaposing the ‘brightest and best’ with those who are considered ‘sham’. Finally, it argues that the figure of the ‘vulnerable’ student and ‘thwarted consumer’ feed into broader government narratives about its policy trajectory – legitimising contemporary reforms and excusing the apparent failure of previous policies.