CSSH Seminar Series: Talk by Yasemin Soysal (Professor of Sociology at University of Essex), "International Student Mobility, World Rankings, and Transnational Imaginaries"

Author: CSSH
Time: 16:00
Location: SOS B35

In recent decades, internationalization has become an important dimension of higher education reform. It is widely adopted as a goal and explicitly strategized by governments, tertiary education sectors, and institutions alike across the world. A highly visible aspect of universities’ internationalizing mission is student mobility.  The broader literature, inspired by human capital theory, sees internationalization of higher education, and particularly of student body, as a significant investment strategy at both country and individual levels.  At the country level, facing the challenge of globalized markets and knowledge economy, increasing human capital potential of the country, thus taking part in the “global race for talent and skills,” is regarded as an imperative, driving the internationalization of higher education. At the individual level, international education is expected to pay off in increasingly competitive job markets by boosting CVs and cultural capital; thus, it is often discussed in the context of middle-class family strategies as a rational investment.  Such perspectives, while highlighting the increasingly competitive field that HE has become, nevertheless do not capture the underlying dynamics completely.  A very significant aspect of this race is the growing expectation of systematic, scientific evaluation of (academic) performance, and relatedly the proliferation and diffusion of rankings of all sorts, which partly drive and sustain the global race. The potency of rankings has been highlighted in the recently surging sociology of evaluation: accounting for excellence is now a common practice in every organizational field, public or private.  I argue that in the field of higher education, rankings not only facilitate a global imaginary of university as an organization (through standardization of international benchmarks of excellence), but also facilitate standardized conceptions of higher education student (who can easily move and learn across national borders and able to carry their degrees with them wherever they may go). In that sense, world rankings normalize international mobility of students and create individual and organizational educational aspirations.  I will draw upon my ongoing research projects on the “transnationlization of Higher Education” and offer both organizational and individual level analyses and findings to elaborate the argument. 


Bio: Yasemin Soysal is Professor of Sociology at University of Essex.  Her research focuses on the intersections of citizenship, rights regimes, and migration, and transnational transformations of higher education.  She is currently leading two collaborative projects: a)  “Bright Futures”: A Comparative Study of Internally and Internationally Mobile Chinese Higher Education Students(funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK, the German Science Foundation, and the Chinese National Science Foundation); b) Universities’ Global Outlook (funded by the British Academy and University of Essex). Soysal has held several prestigious fellowships, including German Marshall Fund, National Academy of Education, National Endowment of Humanities, Jean Monnet, Wissenschaftskolleg, and guest professorships at Max Planck fuer Bildungsforschung, Berlin; Juan March Institute, Madrid; Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo; the Chinese University of Hong Kong; the Willy Brandt Guest Professor at the Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare, Malmo; and Niklas Luhmann Distinguished Professor at Bielefeld University.  She is past president of the European Sociological Association.