Undergraduate students on the move: A comparative analysis of inbound and outbound mobility programmes

Year: 2012

Author: Dall'Alba, Gloria, Sidhu, Ravinder

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


There are signs that geographic mobility is imagined and mobilized by a growing number of universities in building distinctive strategic missions as a means of conferring positional advantages to their graduates and to institutions themselves.   Such institutional policies, to encourage student participation in mobility programmes as part of their undergraduate education, can be read as attempts at consolidating 'strategies of distinction'. Universities promote mobility programmes as opportunities for the acquisition of intercultural skills, cosmopolitan outlooks, and awareness of global issues, arguing that these attributes and embodiments have the potential to be translated into labour market advantage (Brooks & Waters 2011).  However, despite their prominence in university marketing and promotional materials, relatively little is known about the preparation and support that students receive to maximise their learning from mobility programmes. This paper is part of a research project exploring mobility as experienced by both domestic and overseas students at a research- intensive Australian university, the University of Queensland.

Using concepts from Bourdieusian cultural sociology, we critically analyse institutional practices which promote mobility, and read these in parallel to the motivations and experiences of mobility for students in both inbound and outbound programmes.

The key research questions addressed in this paper are:

1/ What are the reasons that universities present to their students for participating in mobility programmes?

2/ What are the demographic backgrounds and subject disciplines of undergraduate students who participate in these programmes?

3/ What are their academic experiences ?

4/ What are the personal and sociocultural adjustments students face?

5/ What are their perceptions of the value of participating in the mobility programme?

Three datasets inform this study:  online institutional documents and promotional materials, student surveys administered online and face-to-face student focus groups.  We discuss the benefits and possible improvements to study abroad and exchange programmes. We conclude with making a case for greater institutional emphasis on the academic aspects of mobility programmes. In doing so, this research provides an empirical basis to interrogate social mobility, the benefits of mobility programmes for student learning, and the globally oriented citizenship project.