Internationalization of higher education: The formation of individual rationales


Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


Within the last half-century higher education internationalization has shifted to the center of national agendas and furnished universities with additional functions and roles. National expectations embedded in nation building or soft power bestow universities to act as ambassadors to the governments. While it may seem that under such circumstances institutional efforts would synchronously contribute to the nationally-set objectives, a closer examination of the formation of institutional and individual rationales for internationalization is required.

This thesis investigates the effect of political rationales on individual rationales at institutional level and individual rationales for internationalization in Kazakhstan. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory provides the organizational structure for the influencing factors under which institutional stakeholders and individuals engage in internationalization. Hearing institutional and individual perspectives with their internalized understanding of the centrally driven internationalization sheds light on the disconnection between the policy makers’ expectations and the actual implementation of the policies and regulations.

The focus of this thesis is to explore the formation of two-dimensional individual rationales for internationalization within centralized systems drawing on the examples of Kazakhstan and China. The country cases provide rich background information given the complexity of intercountry relations on official and societal levels; and the concomitant influencing factors on internationalization rationales from the perspectives of macro-, exo-, meso- and microsystems. The study analyzes the ways case countries’ masterplans (Kazakhstan becoming top 30 economies by 2050 and China’s rejuvenation initiative) shape internationalization policies. How do institutional stakeholders and students formulate their rationales within these systems?

The analysis of policy documents of primarily Kazakhstan (and partially China) informed the study of the mechanisms of linking the masterplan to internationalization policies; twenty-nine interviews with Kazakhstan institutional leaders and faculty, and Kazakhstan full-time degree students graduates) in China provide empirical support on the implementation of the masterplan. The main institutional stakeholders’ rationale is international branding and profile to improve country’s national benchmarking positions and the key individual students’ rationale is career enhancement.

Through centralization, the governments have more leverage to influence institutional stakeholders’ rationales while individual students’ rationales are decoupled from policies which allows independent decision making. Dominating political rationales create obstacles for internationalization flow reflected in unfulfilled institutional agreements signed as a token of respect to governmental hierarchical structures but bringing minimal benefit for an institution. An unclear understanding of internationalization leads to ad hoc policies targeted to deliver national goals, and therefore overlook higher education stakeholders who operationalize internationalization at institutional and individual levels. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • PAN, Suyan 潘甦燕, Supervisor
  • LI, Yu Wai, Supervisor
  • YU, Wai Mui, Christina 姚偉梅, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Internationalization rationales
  • Stakeholders
  • Kazakhstan
  • China
  • Institutional partnerships
  • Studying abroad
  • Soft power
  • Nation building
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2022.


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