Performances of Care: Questioning Relationship-Building and International Student Recruitment

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This paper analyses how performances of care are a critical feature within the international student recruitment process through an investigation of three distinctive geographical encounters: caring for students; supporting third-party recruiters; and acting collegially. Caring and the recognition of students as emotional beings is often cited as overlooked within internationalisation agendas brought about by the neoliberalised higher education system. This paper shows how performances of caring are mobilised as part of this as an attempt to secure international student enrolments. International students are a critical income stream in the university sector and, within the UK, higher education is a major export industry. However, growing competition from new markets, limited longer-term migration prospects, and evidence that international students are primarily viewed as cash cows, means that it is ever more difficult to recruit these students. This paper uses qualitative interviews with international office staff based at 10 UK higher education institutions together with observational research at recruitment events in Hong Kong in 2017 to offer critical and as yet unresearched insights into this aspect of the student recruitment process. It questions the validity of these caring practices and whether the university can ever be a “caring” entity if wider policy agendas are focused on the marketised and the neoliberal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-439
Number of pages14
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number2
Early online date16 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 6 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research in Hong Kong was generously funded by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), grant number SRG05/17.

Publisher Copyright:
The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). © 2021 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)


  • geographies of care
  • higher education
  • international student mobility
  • migration industries


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