Intra-European mobility of PhD students: Creating a European standard or promoting inequality?


 Presenter (s) Charles Mathies, University of Jyväskylä; Brendan Cantwell, Michigan State University

The purpose of this paper is to examine the flow of Intra-European students for PhD studies and identifying reasons for stratification in the international student market. While previous work on intra-European movement of students (see Van Bouwel and Veugelers 2009 and Van Mol 2013, 2014) provided empirically grounded international comparative analyses, our aim is to offer a macro-level account using large-scale data and statistical models to identify drivers of Intra-European mobility for PhD Studies. Understanding drivers of intra-European academic mobility provides a window into the dynamics of exchange within the EU, which is significant both practically and conceptually as governments seek to leverage higher education in the knowledge economy while researchers seek to understand the social and economic conditions that shape regional higher education systems.

The theoretical perspective “knowledge as a commodity” applied to the international student market (Kauppnen, Mathies, & Weimer 2015) found groups of actors (students, institutions, and countries) engaging in various forms of “buying” and “selling” education (knowledge). The more capital an actor possessed, the better they could participate in the international student market. Coupling this with identified growing stratification among countries for students (due to concentration of resources, Slaughter & Cantwell 2012) led us to questions whether differing levels of capital (academic, economic, social) in countries account for the differences (stratification) among European countries competing for European PhD Students.
Using Eurostats, we collected data on the Intra-European movements of PhD students for five years (2013-2017) for the 28 EU countries. We created 756 distinct match pairs for each year (3780 total pairs) to identify the imbalance (+ or -) between individual countries in terms of sending or receiving PhD students (ex: Germany – France). The imbalance (+ or -) is then used the dependent variable in a logit regression model. Using additional data, gathered from Eurostats and other sources such as ranking agencies, OECD, and UNESCO, we developed measures for stocks of academic, economic, social capital for each 28 EU countries averaged across the five years of interest (2013-2017). Variables include R&D expenditures as % of GPD (academic), % GDP spent on tertiary education (academic), total expenditures on tertiary education (academic), number of institutions in THE and QS top 500 rankings (academic), GDP per capita (economic), disposable income (economic), health and life expectancy (social), human development index (social), and gender gap (social). We use the profiles of capital stocks (variables) with standard controls (ex: population size, total tertiary enrolments) as variables in our logit models.

Initial Findings:
As this research is ongoing, findings are preliminary. Initial findings suggest economic capital variables were the most significant (+ or -) factors influencing European students to go abroad for PhD studies. However, the initial findings suggest is not just economic factors and population (size), but also the investment in higher education that influences the flow (exchange) of PhD students. These initial findings begets a new question: are these flows of students creating a European standard of PhD studies or is it promoting greater inequality among the EU member states? The researchers are continuing the analysis to isolate the distinct effects of economic, academic, and social variables as well as answer this new question for our paper for CIES.

Research limitations/implications:
The research focuses on the Intra-European movement of PhD students, so the results are not generalizable to other degree students or outside of the European Union. While the scope of our sample and quality of variables allow for robust estimates, we caution that our findings are not causal, and require care in interpretation.

Practical implications:
The practical implications of the results would provide evidence for policy makers to invest public resources to attract other European PhD students. This is advantageous as EU nationals have the right to work (no need for visa) after graduation in their host country as well being highly trained (skilled) for labour markets (PhD graduate).

Social implications:
Disengaging the strength of academic systems from economic development is difficult to do both conceptually and empirically. Findings from this study assist in understanding the extent to which patters of academic mobility and exchange within the European Union reflect economic differences among member-states versus academic and social conditions. Developing further evidence on the factors influencing the attractiveness and strength of national academic systems will permit a deeper understanding of academic opportunities and the ways to promote balanced academic development.

What is original/value of paper:
This study makes two significant advances. The first is to examine mobility among PhD students within an entire region allowing for a macro-level understanding of the phenomena. In most studies, individuals who become academically mobile or institutions themselves are the unit of analysis. In this study, we examine overall mobility patters, making countries the unit of analysis. Second, our approach to examine dyadic pairs of exchange – which allows us to understand the exchange of PhD students of each EU member state with each other – is a novel empirical approach, which, to the best of our knowledge, has previously not been undertaken. We anticipate that this approach will yield novel findings.

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