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What motivates Chinese students to pursue Bright Futures through educational migration?

An innovative new study involving researchers from the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh is set to explore the motivations, aspirations, and expectations of Chinese students when seeking university education far from home.

Bright FuturesBright Futures aims to investigate how students and their families make decisions about migrating for education within China and abroad. The project will run for three years and is funded jointly by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the German Research Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Led by Professor Yasemin Soysal at the University of Essex, the £979,000 ESRC-funded project is a collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, Bielefeld University and Tsinghua University. Dr. Sophia Woodman, a sociologist within the School of Social and Political Science, is the Edinburgh co-investigator for the project.

In search of the bright futures promoted by the Chinese educational system, as many as 50 million young Chinese have migrated from their rural hometowns for higher education, while Chinese students constitute the largest single group of international students (almost 20%) migrating to the richer countries of the world.

While the United States remains the top destination for these students, a growing proportion is choosing Europe. The project will be the first to compare students who travel long distances domestically for higher education with those studying in the UK and Germany, respectively number one and number three on the list of European destinations for Chinese international students.

The project will generate a rare representative sample survey of Chinese students, as well as surveying students’ parents and conducting qualitative research on the context for their decision-making. The comprehensive research design will enable systematic research on this massive educational migration, which has so far been lacking.

The data will be used to analyse which types of students choose migration, how their experiences abroad affect their life plans, what they expect to gain from what is often very expensive higher education and how the educational migration process shapes their aspirations and broader life orientations.

As well as producing large-scale survey data on Chinese student migrants, this research is aimed at generating helpful information for future students, their parents and for institutions, including universities, in order to improve the experience of Chinese international students.

For further information on the project, please contact: Dr. Sophia Woodman,