Macquarie University
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Understanding the transformative potential of international education for Vietnamese overseas graduates and their communities

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posted on 2022-03-28, 22:38 authored by Lien Thi Pham
Discourses in international education have largely focused on economic and political imperatives, which emphasise institutional measures such as student mobility, international partnerships and alliances as evidence of efficiency and achievement. This thesis aims to shift that thinking to consider perspectives of human development and international graduates’ contribution to development of their home countries. Along this vision, and in consideration of the large population of international students from Asian developing countries, this thesis explores the transformative potential of acquired international education for Vietnamese graduates in their local communities. Through the lens of Amartya Sen’s agency-focused Capability Approach, this thesis examines the aspirations, opportunities and practices of Vietnamese overseas graduates in their work and community work after returning to Viet Nam. This thesis employs Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological concepts of habitus, capital and field to operationalise Sen’s notions of effective agency as the transformative capacity of these returnees to enable personal and social change in their work and community participation. It offers concepts of normative agency and intersubjective freedom as a theoretical framework, and the use of reflexive sociology as an innovative way to engage with the returnees’ “reasoning” of their values, choices and practices. This research employed a mixed method approach of online surveys of Vietnamese overseas-educated returnees (N=280), followed by in-depth interviews with key returnees and members of their networks (N=48). The interviews provided a fuller account of the returnees’ experiences identified in the surveys, thus were the primary focus of analysis and discussions in this thesis. This thesis provides understanding about the types of overseas-acquired skills, knowledge, attributes and attitudes that these returnees can utilise, in light of Viet Nam’s historical, economic, cultural and political contexts, and institutional structures of their workplaces and community organisations. The returnees’ practical experiences suggest competing values that underline the complexity of co-opting with societal norms and making autonomous choices and actions in the process of agency and social change. This thesis offers some implications for international education providers to contribute to ethical development of emerging knowledge societies, and for public policies in Viet Nam to support overseas-educated returnees in contributing to their communities. This thesis offers significant theoretical contributions and insights into the experiences of international graduates upon returning home, thus sets the ground for further research work in this area.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- Theoretical framework and methodological design. Chapter 2. The Sen-Bourdieu theoretical framework : conceptualising normative agency Chapter 3. The methodological design : from theory to praxis of reflexive sociology -- The case study of Vietnam and Vietnamese overseas-educated retyrnees. Chapter 4. Encountering the Vietnamese habitus Chapter 5. Values, motivations and expectations of acquired international education Chapter 6. Values, motivations and expectations of acquired international education Chapter 7. Practical experiences in the “intellectual” field Chapter 8. Practical experiences in the “civic” field -- Chapter 9. Conclusion: Recap, reflection and future research directions.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 263-283

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Adam Stebbing


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