Why do students choose to study abroad? What happens after studying abroad? What is the impact of overseas education on the student, their families and the sending and receiving countries?
Dr Mengwei Tu’s research seeks to answer these three questions and was inspired by her own experience as an international student in the UK in 2012. In the last decade non-EU student numbers in the UK have doubled from 300,000 to 600,000. UK universities have increasingly become more reliant on the income generated from international student recruitment. The global credential inflation raises questions around the economic and ethical consequences of the neoliberal education system, yet the human complexity behind education and migration decisions blurs the answers to these questions.
The global education landscape is further complicated by the rise of China, both as a long standing student-sending country and a rising student-receiving country. China’s economic and political influence has changed the dynamic of international student mobility. This research also explores the emerging trend of students moving from less developed countries in Asia to study in China.
Dr Mengwei Tu conducted interviews with Chinese students who came to the UK to study between 2000 and 2010 and have stayed to work as professionals in the UK. The research found that these students belonged to the one-child generation in China (born under the one-child policy). Considering the important role parents played in their migration journey, interviews were also conducted with their parents in China, to learn their stories. This research was funded by the Kent Hong Kong Alumni Scholarship.
Data collection methods focused on the central question: What happens after the study abroad period? The impact of overseas education on the individual, their families, the host country and sending country. With this focus in mind, the research developed into a longitudinal study. Mengwei also conducted follow up interviews with some of the migrants and their parents between 2014 to 2021. Time reveals powerful migration stories challenging our beliefs about what it means to be a perceived ‘good’ education choice.
To explore a mirror image of the international students’ mobility trajectory in China, Mengwei used longitudinal research and conducted rounds of interviews with Asian students before and after their graduation. Expert interviews, media and policy analysis were also conducted to gather data from different channels. The research project ran from 2019 to 2023, covering the Covid-19 pandemic period. The longitudinal research design reveals the uncertainty and risk (unfairly) transferred to international students and their families at events of institutional misfunctioning. This project is funded by the Social Science Fund in China.
The research carried out, impacts students who are thinking about studying abroad, parents of international students, UK university internationalisation strategy teams as well as Chinese institutions who are hosting international students.
Mengwei’s research indicates that education-motivated migration is not simply a one-off decision made by an individual student. Instead, it often involves a family decision, intertwined with emotional complexities and aspirations that go beyond pure economic rationale. By analysing student flows to and from China and incorporating a time dimension, Mengwei can assess the stratification of the global education landscape, leading to further questions about the sustainability of international education.
- Mengwei’s work on this project has been published in a book: Education, Migration and Family Relations Between China and the UK (Emerald, 2018, 2020) which is available in 500 libraries across Europe and the US and has been endorsed by two leading scholars in the field:
“This is a nuanced and beautifully written ethnography of the experiences of Chinese students in the United Kingdom. The vivid, engaging stories Tu Mengwei tells about their lives will give readers a deep understanding of their complex relationships with the United Kingdom, China, and their parents who remain in China.” Vanessa L. Fong, Olin Professor in Asian Studies, Amherst College, USA
“This is one of the most engaging, beautifully written books I have read in while. It represents such an important piece of scholarship on migration and educational trajectories between the UK and China. The perspective on the complex gender relations and expectations within Chinese families is particularly illuminating. This book will undoubtedly have a wide readership and will be of interest to anyone working at the intersections of migration, transnationalism and education and the Chinese family.” Johanna L. Waters, Professor of Human Geography, University College London
- Mengwei has published findings from the study in a range of international academic journals.
- She has also engaged with a non-academic audience with her blog post: ‘International students to China: stereotypes and diverse reality’ generating 600,000 reads.
- Her podcast episode: What does study abroad mean to Chinese young women was listened to more than 101,000 times, gaining nearly a thousand comments (as of 20/10/23) and is still increasing.
- Mengwei has also contributed to Swansea University’s Social Science podcast and talked about her research on international students in China, encouraging public dialogue around studying abroad.
- Public engagement before 2023 can be found here: Dr Mengwei Tu - Swansea University.