Stu­dent mo­bil­ity may aid ‘demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment’ in home na­tions

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

For­mer Soviet coun­tries with high pro­por­tions of stu­dents study­ing in the Euro­pean Union have achieved higher lev­els of demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment than other post-Soviet states, ac­cord­ing to the pre­lim­i­nary find­ings of an up­com­ing study.

Mean­while, for­mer Soviet re­publics with higher pro­por­tions of stu­dents study­ing in Rus­sia have reached sig­nif­i­cantly lower lev­els of demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment.

The re­search was con­ducted by Maia Chankseliani, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­par­a­tive and in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford, who pre­sented the ini­tial find­ings at a sem­i­nar hosted by the Cen­tre for Global Higher Ed­u­ca­tion on 21 September.

It was based on an anal­y­sis of the des­ti­na­tions of study abroad among stu­dents from the 15 for­mer Soviet Union coun­tries in 2015, us­ing data from the Unesco In­sti­tute of Sta­tis­tics, plot­ted against the rank­ing of each home na­tion in the Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit’s democ­racy in­dex.

Each of the post-Soviet coun­tries in­cluded in the study had the same level of demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment in 1991 and seven still have au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments.

In gen­eral, the Baltic states – Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia – sent a high pro­por­tion of stu­dents to the EU and have high lev­els of democ­racy. Mean­while, cen­tral Asian na­tions, such as Ta­jik­istan and Kaza­khstan, per­formed poorly on both mea­sures.

Over­all, there has been a dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber of stu­dents from the for­mer Soviet re­gion pur­su­ing de­gree pro­grammes at Euro­pean univer­si­ties since the late 1990s, ac­cord­ing to the re­search.

Speak­ing to Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, Dr Chankseliani said the re­search aims to dis­cover whether study­ing abroad in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety “may be viewed as an

ap­pren­tice­ship in democ­racy for those stu­dents who come from less demo­cratic con­texts” and a “pow­er­ful mode of so­cial­i­sa­tion that is likely to in­duct stu­dents into the norms and rules of a host com­mu­nity”.

“While study­ing abroad, in­di­vid­u­als may un­dergo changes in how they think about so­cio-po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural and eco­nomic sys­tems and de­vel­op­ments around them and their own role as cit­i­zen-con­trib­u­tors to their com­mu­ni­ties,” she said.

“Amongst other in­flu­ences, mo­bil­ity may be trans­for­ma­tive for stu­dent mi­grants’ civic con­scious­ness – their crit­i­cal aware­ness of wider so­ci­ety and their will­ing­ness to con­trib­ute to it – and their un­der­stand­ing of what democ­racy en­tails. Such ap­pren­tice­ships in democ­racy... may be es­sen­tial in fa­cil­i­tat­ing demo­cratic de­vel­op­ments at home, when stu­dents re­turn to their home coun­tries.”

Dr Chankseliani said that fur­ther re­search is re­quired to ex­plain whether stu­dents who have new views on the elec­toral process, the func­tion­ing of govern­ment and po­lit­i­cal cul­ture fol­low­ing a pe­riod of study­ing abroad trans­late this into “ac­tions that may lead to demo­cratic tran­si­tions at home”.

She added that the ini­tial find­ings show that study­ing abroad “can pos­si­bly serve not only the goals of im­prov­ing eco­nomic stand­ing of in­di­vid­u­als, in­sti­tu­tions and na­tion states, but wider so­ci­etal goals of sup­port­ing global peace and well­be­ing, as stu­dent mo­bil­ity of­fers the po­ten­tial of fa­cil­i­tat­ing demo­cratic so­cial­i­sa­tion”.

“Fu­ture re­search will need to improve our knowl­edge on how stu­dent so­journ­ers who come from lessor non-demo­cratic con­texts re­dis­cover, re­make and re­or­gan­ise the idea of democ­racy while liv­ing in Europe,” she con­tin­ued.

“Such re­search will be of enor­mous im­por­tance for the con­cep­tual un­der­stand­ing of the democrati­sa­tion prom­ise of Euro­pean higher ed­u­ca­tion.”

Gain­ing a dif­fer­ent view there has been a dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber of stu­dents from the for­mer Soviet re­gion pur­su­ing de­gree pro­grammes at Euro­pean univer­si­ties since the late 1990s

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