Young people are among the groups that have suffered the most in Greece since the country was hit by the 2008 -global financial crisis. According to Eurostat data over the last decade, Greece has regularly recorded one of the highest overall and youth unemployment rates of the EU’s twenty-eight member states, as well as one of the lowest employment rates of recent graduates (aged 20-34). Within this socio-economic context, many young people, especially tertiary graduates, have emigrated, in search of better employment and life opportunities (Triandafyllidou and Gropas, 2014).
The current socio-economic conditions in Greece also seem to have significantly affected the patterns and trends of outbound student migration flows. Every year, thousands of students move abroad in order to pursue Higher Education academic qualifications, and for many years the UK has been by far the most attractive study destination. Specifically, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) (2018), the total number of students domiciled in Greece who studied at UK Higher Education providers from 2013/14 to 2016/17 stood at 40,635 and Greece was ranked 5th among the top ten EU sending countries (excluding the UK) as far as the number of Higher Education student enrolments at all UK Higher Education providers is concerned.
Drawing on a series of interviews with taught postgraduate students from Greece, staff members in UK Higher Education Institutions as well as with education agents, my ongoing project examines various aspects of taught postgraduate students’ migration from Greece to the UK in times of economic recession in Greece and ahead of Brexit. Specifically, it investigates the patterns and trends of students’ migration flows to the UK and explores their aspirations, decision-making, perceptions, motivations, experiences, and graduation plans.
The preliminary findings based on the data collected so far have shown that the socio-economic conditions in Greece as well as the family, social and cultural contexts in which they are situated, along with personal and experiential motivating factors, have been found to play a significant role in students’ aspirations and decision-making. The majority of the students, as well as their families and friends, perceived their migration as a way of overcoming and coping with the socio-economic difficulties and uncertainties they might have to face in their transition from education to the labour market in Greece and as a way to seek better employment opportunities and a better future abroad. Almost all of the participants intend to stay in the UK or further migrate to another country upon graduation considering the current socio-economic conditions in their home country which have caused them feelings of distress and disappointment. Unemployment, the lack of job opportunities in their field, and low-paid temporary jobs irrelevant to their studies and with no career prospects were cited as some of the main drivers of their out-migration.
The UK was identified as the most popular study destination among the participants for the following main reasons: the English language; the British Higher Education system’s reputation and educational quality; the universities’ reputation in their subject area; the availability of courses of their interest, as well as the length of study and course entry requirements; social network recommendations/support; the socio-economic conditions and educational and/or employment opportunities in the UK; the Postgraduate Master’s Loan and/or other forms of financial support; personal interest; socio-cultural and other experiential motivating factors. For most of the students, decision-making was influenced partly by personal interest but mostly by professional factors and career aspirations. Specialisation and the acquisition of an academic qualification awarded by a ‘prestigious’ British university were described by most of them as ‘a necessary requirement’ in order to enhance their employability and career prospects in a highly competitive labour market.
Migration was also perceived by many students as an opportunity to ‘test their limits’ and discover themselves away from their family’s ‘safety net’. For many participants, migration to the UK might allow them to achieve two transitions which are often viewed as two of the ‘first active transitions to adulthood’ (Eurofound, 2014:19) - their ‘school-to-work transition’ and leaving the parental home- which were postponed in their home country mostly due to financial constraints. Apart from finding a job and being financially independent, leaving the parental home was considered by most of them as another important stage of their transition to adulthood and a way to become independent and autonomous. Furthermore, many students pointed out that they had always wanted to live abroad in order to gain not only educational and professional experiences but also various socio-cultural ones.
The findings have also revealed the important role which social networks may play in students’ migration aspirations and decision-making (see also Brooks and Waters, 2010; Beech, 2015). Family members, friends, partners, and university lecturers have been found to significantly influence students’ migration aspirations and decisions through their advice, recommendations, support and sharing of their experiences. Furthermore, the experiences many students had acquired while travelling to the UK to visit their family members/friends/partners who were already studying and/or working there had motivated and facilitated their educational migration. Partners who were already studying and/or working in the UK, or who were planning to do so, were also found to be a strong driver of migration for many students.
Economic capital and structural factors were identified as other strong influences on students’ decision-making, as well as factors which may facilitate or constrain their educational migration and shape the educational and employment opportunities (see also Van Mol and Timmerman, 2014). Specifically, fourteen out of the twenty-two participants interviewed so far highlighted that they might not have been able to migrate and study in the UK, if they had not received the Postgraduate Master’s Loan and/or a scholarship offered by the universities or other providers in the UK or in Greece. Financial constraints prevented many students from accessing their first choice institution, location and course of study, and others mentioned that, although they would like to engage in further study at postgraduate research level upon graduation, the only way to do that would be through a scholarship or some other form of financial support.
In line with Van Mol and Timmerman (2014:477), who have examined the determinants of intra-European student mobility, and Cuzzocrea and Mandich (2016:563) who have analysed eighteen-year-old Sardinian students’ narratives of the future and their ‘imagined mobilities’, the preliminary findings of my study have shown that the students seem to ‘enact their agency’ and ‘exercise some form of control on the future’ when making and implementing their migration decisions. Educational migration is perceived and used by almost all of the participants as a strategy through which they try to overcome the socio-economic difficulties in their home country, become independent, pursue their dreams and fulfill their aspirations at a personal, educational, professional, and socio-cultural level. However, at the same time, their agency may be enabled and constrained by their surrounding contexts and a number of structural factors, acting as facilitators and barriers, which were found to significantly influence their decisions and choices (see Van Mol and Timmerman, 2014; Evans, 2007).
My doctoral study aims to further examine students’ aspirations, decision-making, experiences and graduation plans, exploring their intentions to stay abroad or return to Greece upon graduation and examining the determinants of their intentions. It is hoped that this investigation will provide better insight into young people’s migration aspirations and how they perceive, use and experience their educational migration in times of crisis.
Beech, S. E. 2015. International student mobility: The role of social networks. Social & Cultural Geography. 16 (3): 332-350.
Brooks, R. and Waters, J. 2010. Social networks and educational mobility: The experiences of UK students. Globalisation, Societies and Education. 8 (1): 143-157.
Cuzzocrea, V. and Mandich, G. 2016. Students’ narratives of the future: Imagined mobilities as forms of youth agency? Journal of Youth Studies. 19 (4): 552-567.
Eurofound. 2014. Mapping Youth Transitions in Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. [Online]. [Accessed 9 May 2018]. Available from: https://www.jugendpolitikineuropa.de/downloads/4-20-3595/EF1392EN.pdf
Evans, K. 2007. Concepts of bounded agency in education, work, and the personal lives of young adults. International Journal of Psychology. 42 (2): 85-93.
HESA. 2018. Top ten European-Union countries of Domicile (excluding the UK) in 2016/17 for HE Student Enrolments 2012/13 and 2016/17 (Figure 10). [Online]. [Accessed 2 March 2018]. Available from: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/sfr247/figure-10
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Van Mol, C. and Timmerman, C. 2014. Should I Stay or Should I Go? An analysis of the determinants of intra-European student mobility. Population, Space, and Place. 20 (5): 465–479.