Migration policies and student mobility in Spain, France and the United Kingdom

While the magnitude of migration in connection with higher education—i.e., student migration—and the strong interest in this question have been recognized, little research has been done on public policy in this area and how it evolves. Migration policies on non-EU students are the main focus of “Opening or closing borders to international students? Convergent and divergent dynamics in France, Spain and the UK,” published in the scientific journal Globalisation, Societies and Education.

Drawing not only on administrative documents but also a recently developed database called ImPol that measures trends in immigration policies, the authors compare changes in these policies in three European countries that attract considerable numbers of foreign students: Spain, France and the United Kingdom.
Their neo-institutionalist approach leads them to take into account a wide range of entities, including political parties and administrative structures, as well as national and supranational levels of governance.

Convergent and divergent trends

The study finds that policy aimed at students often shifts from relatively restrictive to relative welcoming, a phenomenon that the authors identify as an excellent example of the “liberal paradox” (Hollifield 2004) characteristic of migration policy, a paradox that lies in the opposition between internal security concerns, which move states to control their borders, and the international economic forces driving free circulation of goods, services and people. Since the 1990s, the logic of the knowledge-based economy has generated and diffused a generally favorable attitude toward student migration. Thought of as an essential component of economic competitiveness, international higher education graduates can become key actors in economic development and growth. However, international students are still foreigners whose entry must be controlled and regulated. The result of these contradictory forces is continuous oscillation between the above-mentioned moves to restrict and (re)liberalize student immigration.

The study also shows how the liberal paradox at work in all three national contexts is particularly strong in France and the United Kingdom, probably because they are longstanding countries of immigration. Current debate in the two countries on “real” and “fake” students is a perfect illustration of this, resulting as it does from fears about fraudulent student migration, a development that would need to be identified and blocked. The paradox is also clear in the contradictions between promoting international higher education and controlling borders. According to the authors, the phenomenon of transnational higher education—that is, when institutions of higher learning offer programs in students’ home countries—is perhaps a way for liberal states to reconcile these contradictions.

For more information, see the TEMPER project (“Temporary versus Permanent Migration”).

Source: A. Levatino, T. Eremenko, Y. Molinero-Gerbeau, E. Consterdine, L. Kabbanji, A. Gonzalez-Ferrer, M. Jolivet-Guetta, C. Beauchemin, 2018, Opening or Closing Borders to International Students? Convergent and Divergent Dynamics in France, Spain and the UK, Globalisation, Societies and Education.

Related references and research activities:

Lama Kabbanji, Sorana Toma, Dec. 2018, Attirer les “meilleurs” étudiants étrangers: Genèse d’une politique sélective, The Conversation.

Joint study day of the INED research unit MIM [International Migrations and Minorities] and the CEPED research group MobÉlites, entitled “Le role des politiques migratoires et d’enseignement supérieur dans les mobilités académiques”, held at INED in Apr. 2018; organized by Lama Kabbanji and Sorana Toma.

Online: April 2019