Understanding to International Student Mobility: A Systematic Review Download PDF

Journal Name : SunText Review of Arts & Social Sciences

DOI : 10.51737/2766-4600.2024.068

Article Type : Research Article

Authors : Çankaya I

Keywords : Systematic review; Globalization; Higher education; International student mobility; Internationalization


In this study, it is aimed to examine systematically the articles published in the Web of Science database between 1997-2023 in the field of educational sciences and social sciences related to student mobility. Articles on international student mobility increased significantly after Covid-19. Articles on equal opportunities and Erasmus student mobility received the most citations. The most used keywords in the articles are higher education, education mobility and international students, while the least used keyword is distinction. Journal of Higher Education was the journal that publishes the most articles on the subject. Most articles were published in the field of educational research. International student mobility has been evaluated to a limited extent in terms of sociology, psychology and educational administration. In the published articles, the issue was generally evaluated within the framework of quality in education. The number of articles published on equality of opportunity in education was quite low.


Higher education institutions are trying to become recognized by educating international students in order to adapt to rapid change and improve the quality of teaching [1]. Demand for higher education from less developed countries to developed countries is increasing rapidly. For this reason, higher education systems in developed countries are becoming increasingly open to student mobility. In other words, higher education is constantly gaining an international dimension. The number of students going to different countries for undergraduate and postgraduate studies has also been steadily increasing [2]. International student mobility contributes significantly to the scientific research capacity of higher education institutions and increases their international competitiveness. International education is not limited to economic returns. The presence of international students and teaching staff in a university directly affects the form and quality of education. It also allows for the development of intercultural dialogue [3]. Developed countries in need of qualified manpower have turned to practices that facilitate the mobility of foreign qualified manpower in order to gain an advantage in international competition. These practices include the re-establishment of course curricula for foreign students in higher education institutions, the issuance of internationally recognized documents, and the more effective use of new information and technology resources [4]. The leading position of developed countries in science and technology depends to a large extent on the talented scientists who come from different countries and continue to work [5,6].

Theoretical Framework

International student mobility, which has increased significantly especially since 2000, is becoming more and more important in the world higher education field, both in terms of quality and social, cultural, economic and policy aspects. International students offer significant opportunities in terms of both economic and human capital. For this reason, countries with advanced higher education systems compete fiercely to take advantage of these opportunities. There are many reasons behind this competition. In countries such as the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada, which have the largest number of international students, the contribution of international students to their economies is clearly visible. In Canada, the total domestic expenditure of international students can even outstrip the revenues generated by the country's most important export sectors [3]. Due to globalization and internationalization processes in higher education, there is a continuous increase in student mobility around the world (Figure 1) [7].

As can be seen in Figure 1 according to OECD (2022) statistics, the number of international students has increased significantly over the years, from around 2 million in 1997 to 6.3 million in 2020. According to UNESCO statistics institute data, the country with the highest international student mobility in the world is the United States of America with 27.8% [8]. According to the same data, after the US, the UK ranked first with 16.3%, Australia 9.7% and France 8.5%. Generally, the countries preferred by international students are developed countries. Students especially prefer English-speaking countries. According to a report published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), 50% of the world's international students are located in English-speaking countries such as the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand [9]. As a result of the political, economic and cultural changes in the world, international students who want to receive qualified education have started to search for alternative countries. This search process has been effective in increasing the number of international students in alternative countries such as China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore [10]. As a result of the increasing number of international students in the world, these countries are trying to find a place for themselves in the international student market by developing different advertising strategies. In the report published by the education organization Observatory, countries receiving international students are classified as follows (Table 1) [11].

The economic, cultural and qualified human resource contributions provided by internationalization in higher education have led many countries to develop international student policies. The foreign labor force working in the United States makes up 10% of the population. This working foreign population represents 25% of the United States' science and engineering workforce. Moreover, 50% of this foreign labor force holds a PhD degree [12]. International students increasingly contribute to the economy, culture and human resources in different countries. Accordingly, countries invest in promotion to attract international students to their countries (Figure 2) [13].

According to the UNESCO report, USA, UK, Canada and Australia are the countries that generate the most income from international students (Figure 2). Various socio-cultural and economic factors influence foreign students' choice of destination country. While the factors that determine the country where international students will study are called push factors, factors that make them prefer a particular country or higher education institution are called pull factors. Push factors include inadequate higher education opportunities in the student's home country, the student's desire to develop culturally and intellectually, and the desire to be employed. Attractive factors include the quality of education in the destination country, the international recognition of the higher education institution, the availability of a credit recognition system, the language of instruction, the cost of living in the country, the ease of the visa process, scholarship opportunities and employment opportunities after graduation. With the process of globalization and increasing competition in education, countries are paying more attention to developing policies on attractive factors to attract foreign students [14]. According to Findlay and King, in push-pull theory, pull factors such as the prestige of certain countries and universities, scholarship opportunities, education and the opportunity to work in the labor market after graduation are usually more dominant. However, student mobility can be better explained through four different conceptual frameworks: skilled migration, globalization, youth culture and social class. International students are associated with high-skilled migration. Globalization and high-skilled migration are highly influential in the internationalization of higher education. The internationalization of higher education is related to learning centers abroad, accreditation of higher education curricula, international cooperation in scientific research, cross-border mobility of institutions, staff and students. However, when the concepts of globalization and internationalization are compared, the content of international student mobility changes. At the level of globalization, international student mobility is about student mobility abroad, while at the level of internationalization it is about the deployment and employment of human capital across national borders. In this case, foreign students and skilled migrants are recognized as components of the internationalization of higher education in host countries [15].

Problem Status

It is seen that the articles on international student mobility in the literature are mainly within the framework of globalization. A bibliometric analysis of existing studies on international student mobility will clearly show to what extent the issue is considered in the context of internationalization and to what extent in the context of globalization. By mapping all components of student mobility, changes in the internationalization process in higher education can be more easily monitored. In this context, answers to the following sub-problems were sought in the biblometric analysis of the articles:

What is the appearance of articles in terms of year of publication and language of publication?

  • How do the articles appearance in terms of the number of citations?
  • How do the articles appearance in terms of keywords used?
  • How do the articles appear according to the country, university and journals in which they were published?
  • What is the network view in terms of authors, articles and number of citations to journals?
  • What is the appearance of the articles in terms of fields of science and topics?


The aim of this study is to determine the bibliometric characteristics of the articles on "International student mobility" in the journals scanned in the field of educational sciences and social sciences using the Web of Science database. Bibliometric is a field of study based on counting and is the study of published books, journals and articles by mathematical and statistical techniques. The analysis of certain characteristics of publications such as journal, subject, number of authors, and publication information is described as bibliometric analysis [16,17]. The research data and population consisted of 550 articles downloaded from the WOS database. In the study, the articles scanned in the WOS database were analysed in terms of annual publication numbers, citation numbers, publishing journals, cited authors, publishing and cited countries, keywords used, fields and topics of the articles. At the same time, social network analysis was used to conduct co-citation analysis of authors and journals, network analysis of keywords together, and analysis of country collaborations. Social network analysis is a method used to obtain quantitative results of relationships between people, objects or organizations [18]. Vosviewer program was used for the analysis of the documents. The biblioshiny application integrated with Map was used to visualize the data. While searching the WOS database, the words "International Student Mobility" were used as title and key.


In this part of the study, data on the year of publication, language, number of citations, keywords, country, cross-country citation, country of publication, journals, cross-journal citation network, authors, field of science and subject of the articles are shown in tables and figures. In the study, 550 articles were analysed and the number of authors, publishing universities and countries, Keywords and total number of references are shown (Table 2).

Publications on international student mobility started to increase after 1998, but increased significantly after the Covid-19 pandemic (after 2020). As international student mobility has become an important competitive tool among countries, academic publications on the subject have also increased (Figures 3,4).

530 of the articles on international student mobility were published in English, 5 in Spanish, 3 in Hungarian, 3 in Russian, 2 in Chinese, 2 in French, 2 in Portuguese, 2 in Turkish and 1 in German. It was determined that the articles were generally published in English [19]. The most cited articles are on student mobility and its consequences. For example; in the 339 cited article "World class? A study on globalization, diversity and international student mobility" only discusses the concept of "world class" [20]. In this article, it is emphasized that new opportunities in education have emerged with student mobility, but inequality persists. 173 quotes from the article "Determinants of international student mobility flows: An empirical study on the Erasmus program" discusses the causes and consequences of the Erasmus program. In the less cited articles, the contributions of student mobility for countries were evaluated. 84 cited article titled "Policy options for managing international student migration: the sending country's perspective" states that countries such as Canada and Australia, which receive student migration, benefit while countries that send students are negatively affected in terms of human resources. 84 cited article titled "The Emergence of a Regional Education Hub: Rationales of International Students’ Choice of China as the Study Destination " emphasizes that South Korea is a regional hub for international student mobility and is attractive due to its English language education (Table 3) [21]. 

Figure 1: Number of International Student Mobility.

Figure 2: Countries generating the most revenue from international students.

Figure 3: Number of articles on ?nternational student mobility by year.

Figure 4: Publication language of articles.

Figure 5: Keywords.

Figure 6: View of articles by country.

Figure 7: Citation network for articles.

Figure 8: Citation network for ?nter-university articles.

Figure 9: Journals with the most articles on the subject.