Theorizing Emerging Educational Mobilities in Asia: Peripheral Spaces, ‘Unlikely’ Actors, Fragmented And Uncertain Flows

Dr Peidong  Yang2

2National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, , Singapore

Recent Anglophone scholarship on educational mobility has witnessed a rising interest in student mobilities occurring between Asian societies or involving Asian societies as destinations. This paper attempts to characterise and theorise some aspects of this Asian educational mobility landscape, drawing on a pool of recently published studies (e.g. Le Ha, 2018; Ortiga, 2018; Yang, 2018a, 2018b) and ongoing work (e.g. Kheir, 2020; Koh, 2019; Lee, 2020) that deal with empirical cases from diverse contexts including Vietnam, Philippines, China, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, and more. Focusing on spaces, actors, and flows, the paper argues that across various Asian contexts, spaces previously marked as secondary or peripheral have increasingly plugged into configurations of cross-national educational provision. Active in these spaces are a range of actors – individuals and institutions – hitherto thought to be ‘unlikely’ participants of educational mobility, who in turn seem to chart pathways and flows characterised by uncertain processes and outcomes. The paper posits that such increasing instances of experimentation with new, untested and unpredictable educational arrangements reflect the articulations between individual social actors’ intensifying anxieties about social reproduction and mobility amidst wide-spread social stratification on one hand and institutions’ and states’ efforts to stay responsive and competitive in a global marketplace of higher education, on the other. As more individual, institutional, sometimes statal actors in Asia buy into or capitalise on such an intensifying ‘desire to circulate’ with regard to education (Collins, Sidhu, Lewis, & Yeoh, 2014; Raghuram, 2013), one consequence appears to be a proliferation of fragmented, segmented, unpredictable, and sometimes unsustainable, student mobility flows.


Peidong Yang (DPhil, Oxford) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Studies Education at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Peidong’s core research interests are located at the intersections of education and migration/mobility. He has conducted several research projects on educational mobility, including mainland Chinese students recruited through Singapore’s state-sponsored scholarship schemes; Indian students pursuing English-medium medical degrees in China, and more recently, immigrant teachers in Singapore. His research interests also extend more broadly to immigration-related issues in the context of Singapore and social studies education topics such as diversity, identity, and globalization. Peidong is the author of International Mobility and Educational Desire: Chinese Foreign Talent Students in Singapore (Palgrave, 2016) and numerous international peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. At NIE Singapore, he teaches undergraduate and postgraduate level courses on identity, globalization, and sociology of education.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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