The trajectories, experiences and post-graduation intentions of African students at universities in China

Benjamin Joseph MULVEY

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


This thesis examines an emergent pattern of international student mobility within the Global South: that of international students from across the African continent who migrate to China to undertake degrees. Despite the fact that ~6% of African tertiary students study abroad, a higher proportion than in any other region, and that China is now the second most popular destination country among African international students, there remains a paucity of research into this emergent student flow. What empirical research does exist is limited in terms of theory-building and is poorly integrated into the existing literature on international student mobility. By employing a number of concepts from postcolonial theory and Bourdieu’s theory of practice, this thesis accordingly examines both the discourse surrounding this nascent migration pattern, and the nature of the mobility itself in terms of students’ migration decision-making (both pre- and post- study) and experiences.
The research draws on semi-structured interviews carried out remotely with African students in several cities across China between December 2019 and April 2020. The interviews focused on students’ pre-mobility lives, including their social and economic background, their experiences in China, and their life plans for after their graduation. The research also utilises a number of policy texts related to international student mobility produced by the Chinese government.
The findings from the research were written up in five substantive articles which are at various stages of publication in international peer-reviewed journals. Taken together, the articles offer a novel means of theorising and comprehending migration within the Global South. I explore how China’s shifting structural position within the global political economy is mirrored in the discourse surrounding student mobility in Chinese policy texts, and how this position also shapes the decision-making and capital accumulation strategies of from across the African continent. I argue that the specific modalities of integration into the global economy of the sending region and host country lead to particular discursive formations, and also shape the decision-making, capital accumulation strategies and trajectories of students. In addition, the thesis highlights how incipient flows of international student migrants, such as those between various African countries and China, are bringing into question a number of the axioms in the study of international study mobility that were developed with reference to more established migration patterns, which tend to flow from other regions to the West. These include, for example, the idea that international students are generally privileged members of the global middle class who seek an education abroad as part of a strategy to accumulate cultural capital and reproduce social privilege. In outlining the complex and multidimensional decision-making processes, experiences and future plans of these students, I highlight that many of the assumptions within existing literature related to international student mobility, particularly around the pre-mobility lives, decision-making processes and post-study plans of international students, are challenged by the evidence from this study. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • MASON, Mark, Supervisor
  • LO, Yat Wai, Supervisor
  • GAO, Fang 高放, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2021


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