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Testing elite transnational education and contesting orders of worth in the face of a pandemic

Rebecca Ye (2021)

Educational Review, pp. 1-16. Online first.

Abstract. This paper considers the COVID-19 pandemic as a test that has disrupted the flow of a particular type of social and physical mobility. It takes pathways embarked upon by students from Asian countries to “prestigious” anglophone universities as its focal point of analysis, considering how the residential, consecratory experience of attending elite institutions has been disrupted when universities go virtual or as students are prevented from travelling to their university’s country destination. Building theoretically on the sociology of conventions and testing, I analyse public institutional responses at the commencement of the outbreak from elite universities in the US and the UK, which have hosted large numbers of students from Asian countries in past decades. This paper focuses on how these universities responded to international students under conditions of uncertainty, examining how they justify their role, purpose and operations, while canvassing for continued support from this student segment. The findings highlight contesting orders of worth between states and institutions, as clashes between market, civic and domestic regimes exert significant pressures on organisational efforts to coordinate and cope during this critical moment, thereby raising questions about how prevailing logics of elite transnational education have been altered in the face of a pandemic.

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