How Student Mobility Contributes to the Realisation of Sustainable Development Goals | Dararath Uk

Internationalisation in Higher Education (HE) is regarded as one driving force toward the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As mentioned by Mr. Vong Chorvy, director of International Relations Office (IRO) at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), Cambodia during his interview with me “Why Internationsation Matters”, there is a strong linkage between the two following variables: Internationalisation in HE and the SDGs. In the context of internationalisation in HE, he stresses, more importantly, on the importance of students’ mobility. Students who have done their international exchange usually commit to contribute to community services and improve the society. This aspect of the return effects of student mobility encourages me to seek deeper understanding on more possible and potential opportunities that student mobility can offer to HE and especially the SDGs. Therefore, this paper intends to investigate mainly on the opportunities of student mobility for HE and the SDGs, taking Cambodia as a case study.
While the above main investigation question is set, other sub-focuses are also included to better understand the topic. This paper is organized by first (1) defining what student mobility in this context, (2) issues of student mobility, (3) contribution of student mobility to HE, (4) opportunities of student mobility on SDGs, and (5) discussion and recommendations.

I. Student Mobility

Student mobility is an important agent to drive internationalisation in HE. The European Parliament and Council (2006) regards international student mobility as the  process undertook by individuals or students of learning abroad in formal and non-formal programs with the purpose of acquiring broader knowledge and developing professional skills (Anna, 2014). In the Cambodian context and for this paper’s purpose, student mobility or exchange study program will be limited to the movement of students to attend or participate in degree- programs, non-degree semester study exchange programs, short courses, trainings, cultural exchanges, seminars and other conferences or meeting settings that are done outside of the country.

II. Issues of Student Mobility

While many students and the general believe that student mobility is important for students’ professional development and for the national development at large, the flow of student
mobility is very limited in Cambodia. I conducted an informal discussion among university students in their freshmen year, there are a number of challenges that students see to pursue their mobility studies. Those issues include funding, information, assistance, ICT, language skills, culture and environment, confidence and health. I asked them to list three most challenging issues among mentioned issues and the majority agree on funding, information and ICT that require urgent addressing solutions.

III. Opportunities of Student Mobility for HE

Meanwhile, student mobility plays crucial roles in supporting HE. The European Union Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (SHARE), which implements its programs to support HE in ASEAN region, states that student mobility is of utmost importance to further foster “internationalization” and “harmonization” of HE. The European Parliament and Council (2006) also mentions the benefits of student mobility as a tool for European area to create “lifelong learning, promoting employment and reducing poverty, and to help promote active European citizenship.” In addition, the Second ASEAN Mobility Forum in Yangon, Myanmar discussed comprehensively during the ASEAN debate session to produce a student statement regarding the challenges, benefits and recommendations of student mobility in the region. The statement contributed by me as a head of the Cambodia student delegation and other heads of students’ organisations from all ASEAN countries mentions the contributions of student mobility to HE and those include (1) strengthening international credibility, (2) boosting international rankings through increased inbound students, (3) acquiring a more diverse student body, (4) gaining opportunities to improve its International Relations Office (IRO) capability and operations, (5) widening opportunities to increase academic cooperation and partnership with other higher education institutions, and (6) sharing and learning pedagogical methods with and from other institutions. These outcomes presented in the student statement reflect the opportunities of student mobility on HE Cambodia and ASEAN countries.

IV. Opportunities of Student Mobility for SDGs

The discussion on the relations between student mobility and SDGs is usually broad. HE plays an important part in realising the SDGs. Therefore, internationalisation by student mobility in any way effects how the HE contributes to the SDGs. Student mobility contributes to the increase of internationalisation which will further improve the education quality. As mentioned by Mr. Chorvy during his interview with me, student mobility requires partnership with not only HE but also other stakeholders internationally. This means student mobility directly and indirectly drives collaboration among intellectuals, universities as well as ministries and states to work beyond its own border to increase awareness of world issues and foster professional development to respond to issues and improve the world globally. The opportunities of student mobility on individuals are also great regarding their actions toward SDGs. My observation supports the above statement. Students who do their study mobility are greatly aware of social issues and actively engage and partner with all stakeholders, locally and globally, to solve challenges they are facing. As such, there are a number of student associations or NGOs formed by students who take the same or similar programmes. Some student alumni associations in Cambodia include SHARE Alumni Association of Cambodia, Erasmus Association, Fulbright and Undergraduate State Alumni Association of Cambodiato name a few and actively engage with the public to implement their projects to support their various purposes. Their activities support education empowerment, literacy and foreign language trainings, student mobility, poverty reduction, leadership, social-project trainings and volunteerism. In direct or in indirect ways, these actions do make impactful results on the SDGs at large.

V. Discussion and Recommendations

In the context of Cambodia, student mobility is generally viewed positively based on my observation. Students are encouraged to pursue their study in a foreign country as it is believed that it will help them discover the outside world and develop professional skills to respond to social changes. While student mobility is important for students and is demanded, there are a number of challenges students face when they want to study abroad. Funding is a great challenge for Cambodian students. Most students can go on mobility programmes by seeking international funding, for example scholarships provided by foreign countries or non-state actors. While funding for studying abroad is limited internally, information and ICT are also a problem for students. They find it difficult to access to information and to take opportunities because information is not widely spread to those in disadvantaged areas and because they have limited knowledge of using ICT to apply for funding and admission to study abroad.
As this paper argues, student mobility plays an important role in HE and the SDGs at large. The process of student mobility could be improved if the above mentioned issued are co- responsively solved. The contributions of student mobility to internationalisation in HE will further encourage HE to play a greater role in realising the SDGs.
This paper, therefore, provides the following recommendations after the evaluations of the options above. First, local funds should be more available for students who wish to continue their study in other countries. Second, universities should take a greater responsibility to raise awareness among students about the SDGs and support and initiate
projects that are helping realising the goals. Furthermore, universities should cooperate with all stakeholders internationally to work on the SDGs through their internationalisation process, for example establishing joint SDGs projects or SDGs courses for international students. Last but not least, students should be more active in actions toward the SDGs’ realisation. The student alumni associations, for example, should take SDGs as one of its main focuses for their projects.


Anna W. (2014). International Student Mobility: Approaches, Challenges And Suggestions For Further Research. Retrieved from:
European Parliament and Council. (2006). Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on transnational mobility within the Community for education and training purposes: European Quality Charter for Mobility. Retrieved from 9:EN:PDF
SHARE. SHARE Scholarship. Retrieved from: https://www.share- 466012259.1521564110
Robert J. D. and Paul O. The Role of Education in the Sustainable Development Agenda: Empowering a Learning Society for Sustainability through Quality Education.


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