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Chinese student mobility as an individualisation process

Discussing the individualisation process on the institutional level, Beck describes this concept in three dimensions:

Disembedding, removal from historically prescribed social forms and commitments in the sense of traditional contexts of dominance and support (the 'liberating dimension'); the loss of traditional security with respect to practical knowledge, faith and guiding norms (the 'disenchantment dimension'); and - here the meaning of the word is virtually turned into its opposite - re-embedding, a new type of social commitment (the 'control' or 'reintegration dimension'). (Beck, 1992, p. 128) (italics in original)

In the text that follows, this model is used to interpret the recent trends in Chinese student migration as an individualisation process.

Disembedding, from state assignment to market competition

The democratisation of overseas studies, promoting self-financing education since the end of the 1990s, implies a transfer of responsibility for education investment from the state to young people and their families (Pan, 2011), which should be perceived in light of a redefinition of state- society-individual relationships in late socialist China (Hoffman, 2006, 2010; Yan, 2010).

Before the 1980s, in the era of the planned economy, Chinese university graduates were assigned jobs upon graduation by the government in a top-down process, which guaranteed them a job but determined where they should live and what they should do (Hao & Welch, 2012; Hoffman, 2010). After the reform and opening of China in the 1970s, in the first period of student migration, government-sponsored overseas studies prevailed, in which the goals, type of training, duration of overseas stay, and future jobs of students were arranged by the state. The period since the early 1990s has witnessed all forms of privatisation of property, labour, and the self (Zhang & Ong, 2008). The state has been moving towards more or less 'distanced' modes of governing (Rose, 1996), such as marketing the labour distribution, fostering a selfenterprising ethic, and emphasising individual choice and autonomy rather than state distribution, as illustrated most explicitly by patriotic professionalism (Hoffman, 2006, 2010). The government gradually loosened its control over graduates, which induced students to respond more readily to the needs of a rapidly changing labour market by finding jobs on their own. Although finding a job upon graduation was previously difficult for some students, the rapid expansion of the higher education system in 1998 has rendered finding a job extremely difficult for many of today's graduates (Hao & Welch, 2012, p. 247). In this context, students and their families increasingly regard international education as a rational investment in human capital to meet the demands of a labour market that is becoming increasingly competitive.

Accordingly, China has experienced a chuguo re (going-out fever) since the government loosened its restrictions on self-financed overseas studies in the late 1990s (Xiang, 2003). The privatisation of studying abroad has also privatised the risks that are involved in international educational mobility for students and their families. Individuals must make choices and decisions regarding diverse countries of destination, universities, degree programmes, and so forth, based on their partial knowledge of both the host country and the home country. They must take the entire responsibility for failures, delays, and incidents that affect them during their journey.

However, the Chinese students who were interviewed for this study tended to have positive perceptions of the risks posed by migration during their overseas study project. They appear to be what Lyng (2008) called edgeworkers. They believe that overseas studies not only increase their self-esteem through their ability to manage these risks successfully but also contribute to peer esteem. In addition, acquiring another language and experiencing international exposure improve the value of their curriculum vitae on the labour market. Overseas study experiences may raise a 'normal' biography via geographical and social mobility into an elective or 'do-it-yourself' biography (King & Ruiz- Gelices, 2003, p. 232). Moreover, our respondents perceive the risks in migration as a source of excitement that invigorates an otherwise well-adjusted and predictable life. Experiencing another lifestyle and confronting risks on one's own in a foreign country are two common themes of the 'romanticism' of studying abroad, as indicated in the narratives of students and in the popular literature on this subject in China (Hu, 2004, pp. 152-156).

 
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