Ukrainian students abroad: where and why?

Author : Yehor Stadnyi

Source :

Often students are guided not by economic factors such as the probability of finding a job or compensation for the knowledge, but psychological – they want to study in countries with a large contingent of Ukrainians
22:20, 3 January 2017
112 Agency

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A growing number of Ukrainians are moving abroad for education and future work. What is the exact number of them, the reasons for their departure, and is there a possibility to stop the brain drain from Ukraine? For several years CEDOS analytical center collects and analyzes data on the number of Ukrainian citizens who study in foreign universities. During this time experts formed a database that covers 33 countries in Europe, North America and Australia during the period from 2008/2009 to 2014/2015 academic years.

The number of Ukrainian students at foreign universities as of the 2014/2015 academic year was 59,648 people. Among the most preferred countries for education still remain Poland, Germany, Russia, Canada, Italy, Czech Republic, USA, Spain, Austria, France and Hungary. The growth from 2009 to 2015 was 129%.Comparing the last two years, the increase is about 29%, or 13,266 people. And 2/3 of this growth consisted of Ukrainians who studied in Polish universities. They showed the most rapid increase, both in absolute and relative terms - from 14,951 to 22,833 persons. Also significant relative and absolute growth of Ukrainian citizens on studies demonstrate Canadian, Czech and Italian universities.

Related: Educational journalistic project unites students from Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus

In the global population of students who study abroad, Ukrainians constitute little more than a hundredth part. Analysis of each country of their destination country determines how important for it Ukrainian students are. Traditionally, the share of Ukrainian foreign students in Poland is quite tangible – in 2014/2015, it was 53%, significantly ahead of the second largest diaspora, Belarusian students, numbering almost 10%. In the rest of countries there was considerably smaller number of Ukrainians comparing to other students - up to 7%. For example, in Russia and Germany and Ukrainian there were 6.8% and 2.9% of Ukrainian students respectively. Czech Republic and Hungary, although attracting many Ukrainian are more desirable for young people from the Balkan countries, so there Ukrainian students were accounted for 5.5% and 4.3% respectively.

Factors that explain the scope and directions of student migration

The availability of data about the number of students in the destination countries for the period from 2008/2009 to 2014/2015 years enables us to draw conclusions not only on the dynamics of flows of students but allows more detailed analysis of the factors influencing the volume and direction of student migration. For this purpose, based on the theoretical model of investment in human capital (migration, as a special case, since it increases productivity) and based on a literature review, we supplemented the existing database with relevant variables that may indicate factors that influence the decision of students to migrate.

According to the model of investment in human capital, making decision to migrate person compares the benefits of migration with needed costs. However, in the case of migration of students, this model is complicated by the fact that education is an investment in human capital, because usually it increases future income. With this in mind, students can go to study abroad in two cases:

  • Educational opportunities at home country are limited, but the return from education at home country is high, so they get the desired education and return home.
  • There are wide opportunities for education at home country but the return from education is lower than in the destination country, so they are going to get education abroad with the intent to stay there permanently.

We assume that the majority of Ukrainian students studying abroad, moved there because of second reason. Our assumptions are based on the fact that in Ukraine access to higher education is almost unlimited due to substantial government contracts and relatively low cost of studying on a contract form, but the return from higher education is relatively low.

According to research in 2007, each year of higher education in Ukraine increased an average monthly wages by 5.6%. However, the impact of education in the EU was considerably higher. In 2005, in 28 EU countries wage increase after higher education averaged 43% (e.g. in Poland - 45%, Germany - 32%, Czech Republic - 44%).

In this case educational migration includes such costs and benefits:

  • Direct benefits from educational migration - higher wages after education in the country of migration (average wage in the previous period in the destination country).
  • Indirect benefits from educational migration - higher quality of education and better learning conditions (number of universities in the top 500 of the Shanghai ranking).
  • Direct costs related to educational migration - studying costs (which in this case measured as the opportunity to receive free education in the country), the cost of transportation (depending on the distance between countries) and living expenses (approximate costs of accommodation UN staff in a given country, as the example).
  • Direct psychological costs associated with the educational migration - psychological costs of separation from the motherland which are smaller in the countries where more Ukrainians live and countries culturally close to Ukraine.
  • Indirect costs related to educational migration - lost wages in Ukraine during the relocation and studying.

As the results of regression analysis show, one of the most important factors influencing the decision of Ukrainian students to migrate is psychological costs. Ukrainian students usually go to countries similar in language and culture and to countries where there is a large contingent of Ukrainian. Unfortunately, based on the available data on the size of the Ukrainian community abroad, we can’t make an unambiguous conclusion about whether psychological costs are reduced through the existing network of students that make the process of adaptation to the new location less difficult, or due to reunion with other family members who have gone abroad earlier (e.g .migrant parents with children, students). But we can assume that young people will continue to relocate to regions where Ukrainian students’ and workers’ network already is.

Effect of expenses that arise during student migration depends on the type of expenditure. After the analysis, we can conclude that the countries which have the opportunity to study for free "draw" Ukrainian students. In 2014-2015, the following option for foreigners offered 4 from 33 countries (Germany, Finland, France, and Czech Republic). On the other hand, in many countries where higher education is paid, there are various scholarships for university students. However, due to limitations of data we could not analyze their impact on the decision of Ukrainian students to migrate. Interestingly, the transportation cost showed no significant effect on the flow of academic migration, which can be explained by the active development of the market of low-cost air and bus transportation. The cost of living in the country of study in general have a negative effect on student migration, but usually countries with high living costs are the countries with high wages, so these two effects cancel each other.

According to the analysis, the probability of finding a job after graduation does not affect the number of Ukrainian students in a given country. There are several possible explanations for this. On the one hand, this may be an indication that Ukrainian students plan to go back to Ukraine after graduation, because they are not very interested in prospects on the labor markets of destination countries. On the other hand, students who plan to stay for permanent residence abroad may not just take into account the probability of finding a job in their chosen country because of their short-sighted plans and irrational behavior. The likely explanation is also that students travel to those countries where their parents are successfully work already and thus this academic migration is not the first stage of economic migration, but an instrument for uniting family.

Related: Ukrainian students win big at influential science fair

It should be noted that Ukrainian students want to study in countries with high quality of education, and this result is stable no matter what ranking we used to learn about the quality of education - Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (top 500), The Times Higher Education (top 400 ) or QS (top 800). However, available data is insufficient to state that it is exactly the quality of education a crucial factor in choosing the country of study. Other variations give us reason to assume that there is a strong country effect. Countries with a high quality education are usually (but not necessarily) the countries with high public and private spending on education and high income of potential students. These countries attract many students and student migration network, in turn, reduces the costs of future foreign students, thus further enhancing the educational migration.

Despite our initial assumption that the main cause of academic migration of students is the highest return from education in the countries of destination, a more detailed analysis of macroeconomic indicators showed that often students are guided not by economic factors such as the probability of finding a job or compensation for the knowledge, but psychological – they want to study in countries where a large contingent of Ukrainians lives.

Related: Ukraine and China signed agreement on development of inclusive education in Ukraine

Related: Deputy Minister of Education: "Ukraine spends on university science less than EUR 20 mln"

Related: Czech Development Agency to allocate EUR 800 thousand for education reform in Ukraine

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