The impact of geopolitics on international student mobility : The Chinese students' perspective

Ka Ho MOK, Wenqin SHEN*, Feifei GU

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


In the last few years, international student mobility has been disrupted not only by the global health crisis resulting from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic but also adversely affected by the rise of geopolitics. The worsening relationship between China and its western counterparts led by the United States and its allies has significantly influenced students' motivation and plan for overseas education. Based upon interviews with 75 students from leading universities in mainland China, this article examines how Chinese elite students evaluate the impact of the new geopolitics on their overseas study plans and opportunities. The study found that, due to the influence of scientific internationalism ideas and institutional habitus, interviewees underestimated the impact of geopolitical factors. Furthermore, unpleasant environmental factors (such as racial discrimination) caused by geopolitical changes are tolerable because most of the interviewees plan to return China after studying abroad. On the other hand, deterioration of Sino-US relations has substantially affected Chinese students' international mobility. Many interviewees, especially those majoring in science and engineering, were unable to obtain visas. Some of them gave up their study abroad plans, while others transferred to other study abroad destination countries such as the United Kingdom and Singapore. We also find that the perception of the power shift in the field of higher education shapes the students' decision making. This article critically reflects upon the international student mobility from the broader political economy perspective, discussing policy implications for future international education.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12509
JournalHigher Education Quarterly
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Feb 2024

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© 2024 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Sino-US relation
  • geopolitics
  • international student mobility


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