International Migration and Students’ Recruitment Process
Motivation for Overseas Education
A search for the Interconnections Between International Education and Migration among West African Students
(Why students from West Africa may be attracted to study destinations overseas)
Studying abroad is an important life’s decision that involves moving from one’s home country to a foreign community for educational purposes. However, when associated with classic theories of international migrations including ‘push-pull’ theory; the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) and several others (Lee, 1966; Kotler & Fox, 1995), there appear to be a myriad of factors that could pre-dispose or influence a potential migrant – in the context of this essay – an international student. Such factors have now been widely aligned with the decision to study abroad; the question of what country to select? which higher education institution to apply for? In essence; this essay explored the subject of international students’ mobility with focus on how students' recruitment can be effectively managed.
As indicated earlier, due to relevance of the traditional models employed in international migration studies to the subject of international students' mobility; it could be considered logical to evaluate the interconnectedness between the desire to study abroad and the desire to migrate.
From an historical perspective, the migrant flows of West African population either within the African continent and beyond has been age-long tradition (Brachet, 2018). As Keith (1946) reported; by the end of the 1940s under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, around two hundred Africans were attending United Kingdom higher education institutions. Through its development assistance programmes, the United Kingdom (UK) for instance; encouraged inbound migration of students from the African countries for educational purposes (ICEF Monitor, 2013). Such inbound student mobility was considered beneficial as such move of equipping these international students were regarded targeted for international relations and development (among the comity of nations), a source of enrichment of local student life, a source of students for vacant places, and lastly, a source of revenue (ICEF Monitor, 2013).
Bolsmann & Miller (2008) noted that the international students in a way also benefited in financial terms such as the overall low financial cost of their programme. Although in the later years however, the financial costs for international students started to rise; this led to diplomatic rifts with many countries and a dramatic fall in international student numbers in many traditional study destinations (Wedderburn, 1979; Chandler, 1989). Such example supports the argument that from a classic perspective; political and economic factors may have played a role in the levels of inbound student mobility (ISM) into study destinations as in the UK.
International migration has been an ancient human practice that has seen individuals move from their birthplace to a new environment. Accordingly, there have been several media reports that often depict the desire to migrate as spontaneous and often associated with a threat to human survival. However, in other circumstances; as Adekalu and Oludeyi (2013) noted, the approach to migration is a well-planned process. Following this thought, migration for the purpose of knowledge acquisition could be considered a ‘well-thought out’ approach that many notable persons - from political leaders to thought leaders in diverse fields of life have embraced for personal and national benefits (Enigbokan et al., 2015).
The perception of the intrinsic value of knowledge isn’t also a novel concept as there are anecdotal evidences of humans migrating through various levels of civilization. In fact, in a paper published in 1992, McMahon hypothesized on whether the flow of knowledge resources was interlocked with global political, economic and cultural interrelationship. This could simply be inferred literally to mean – ‘the one that had more knowledge had more influence globally’. Hence, the race towards building efficient knowledge-based economies in the world.
Additionally, this concept on the ‘flow of knowledge resources’ creates an argument on the current ‘sweeping wave’ of globalization across the world – a global idea which creates a platform where diverse dimensions of knowledge are shared and communicated in such a way, that it allows for bi-directional benefits between individuals and countries. Also in tandem with the current subject of this discourse is the thought on the flow of knowledge resources, the demand for internationalization (in the education industry) which is focused on deploying marketing strategies with the aim of attracting students from ‘sending’ countries where amongst various factors, education is inaccessible; to the study destinations (host countries) which usually possess a ready supply of educational capabilities.
International Migration and Students’ Recruitment Process
With respect to the subject of why student-migrants prefer certain study destinations; findings from several scholarly works have addressed the motivations for international student mobility under several models including (but not limited to): 1) econometric, sociological and combined models, 2) three-phase model of a higher education institution (HEI) choice, 3) “push-pull” model, 4) international student decision-making process, 5) theory of planned behaviour as reported by Marjanović and Pavlović (2018).
Briefly, the econometric and sociological models collectively expound on ISM such that it explored the selection process by looking at the inter-relatedness of factors and how these factors influence the desire to pursue a higher education abroad (Hossler et al., 1989).
Second, the three-phase model of HEI choice, which is a modified version of works by Litten (1982) and Jackson (1982) explored the choice of the HEI starting from accessibility to information on available higher education options; followed by the influence of personal and organization factors; leading to a final decision on a choice study destination (Hossler and Gallagher, 1987).
Third, the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) as proposed by Ajzen (1991) puts forward a theoretical perspective for identifying factors motivating study-abroad destination on the basis of the psychology of human behaviour. Based on this theory, “[…] human behaviour including international college choice, was a result of the interaction of one’s attitude to behaviour and subjective norms, as well as one’s self-perception of one’s capabilities, perceived behavioural control” (Chen & Zimitat, 2006).
Next – the ‘push-pull’ model (PPM) - another migration theory formulated to account for reasons behind human cross-national movement (Hemsley-Brown & Oplatka, 2006). As proposed by Lee (1966), this model stressed that motivators for human migration were a combination of pull factors, motivators to move to another country, and push factors, motivators to leave one’s home country. PPM is said to be a composite of three other models including: the economic model, the status attainment model, and social capital theory (Mazzarol and Soutar, 2002).
The traditional push-pull model (PPM) had been adopted by previous studies that evaluated students’ migration in the quest to acquire overseas education (McMahon, 1992; Mazzarol and Soutar, 2002). In the context of international higher education, the PPM is based on the theory that the decision-making process of choosing a higher education institution (HEI) was fundamentally dependent on certain intrinsic factors localized within the home country of the international student (i.e. push factors) in conjunction with those localized in the host country (pull factors). The researchers postulated that the decision to undertake an international higher education begins with initial push factors (often cultural, social, political or economic) which may trigger the desire to study abroad. This was typically followed by the process of search for a preferred host country and host HEI; which are generally determined by a range of pull factors. These factors literally ‘pull’ or ‘attract’ the prospective student (National Association of Foreign Student Advisors [NAFSA], 2005; Institute of International Education (IIE), 2008).
With respect to West Africa; there exist various reports on, for instance; students of West African origin leading the list of international students in foreign study destinations (Deji-Folutile, 2012). In one report by the United States Embassy in Nigeria (2012), it was reported that “Nigeria was the 17th largest source of international undergraduates and the 19th largest source of international graduate students in the United States (U.S.) in 2009/2010.” Anecdotally, Adekalu and Oludeyi (2013) attributed this outbound student mobility trend to feelings of acquiring a better education overseas and better employment prospects. Deji-Folutile (2012) also added that the reason for the outwards students' mobility of Nigerians to overseas study destination could partly be as a result of the thought 'foreign certificates were better rated than Nigerian certificates at present.’
In West Africa, as Adekalu and Oludeyi (2013) noted; pull factors that could attract foreign students from Europe were almost non-existent. However, they mentioned several push factors in the educational system such as underfunding, industrial action in the colleges and universities, high crime rate (within the HEIs including cult-related violence), bad institutional image, university staff misconduct and ineptitude caused by low salaries, lack of post-study work opportunities and several variables (Okafor, 2011; Lam et al., 2011; Emeh et al., 2012; Onma, 2012; Onukwugha, 2013). Alarmingly, some studies opined that these push factors have transcended into the academia in many of the public universities, causing further ‘brain drain’ towards developed economies (Barbra, 2012). This is in direct contrast to the situation in developed economies as it relates to education.
One report on international student decision-making and destination preferences by ICEF Monitor (2013) conducted a survey involving about 5,666 prospective students from Africa and the Middle East where frequency distribution by country revealed that Nigerians (21%), Ghanaians (15%) and Kenyans (8%) were among the largest proportion of the students. The study also found that the Africa and Middle East respondents were clearly motivated by career goals when it comes to study abroad, and were the least likely across all global regions – to cite personal or cultural goal as motivational factors for overseas study.’ This was consistent with another study by QS applicant Survey (2018) on the study motivations of the African and Middle-Eastern students, where the majority (71%) considered were motivated on the decision to study abroad due to the quest of advancing their academic qualifications, followed by the need to increase capacity in the career.