International Higher Education and Public Diplomacy: A Case Study of Ugandan Graduates from Chinese Universities


The number of international students studying in Chinese universities has expanded rapidly in recent years, and this expansion is undergirded by a public diplomacy rationale. However, there is a lack of research which seeks to understand how graduates of Chinese universities may be contributing to Chinese foreign policy goals in specific contexts. This article presents a case study which explores the experiences of international study, resulting attitudinal changes, and post-graduation trajectories of a group of Ugandan graduates from Chinese universities. The findings underscore issues with the assumptions around how international higher education provision contributes to public diplomacy. The evidence from the case study highlights the previously neglected relevance of students’ agency and decision-making to the process of soft power accumulation. The participants in this study expressed ambivalence towards study experiences and Chinese foreign policy, but still chose to engage with China post-graduation, as doing so represented an opportunity to leverage knowledge of Chinese language and culture in the Ugandan labour market. This also highlights the how students’ agentic decision-making is related to global geopolitical competition, and the nature of the bilateral relations between host and sending nations.

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Correspondence to Benjamin Mulvey.

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Mulvey, B. International Higher Education and Public Diplomacy: A Case Study of Ugandan Graduates from Chinese Universities. High Educ Policy (2019) doi:10.1057/s41307-019-00174-w

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  • public diplomacy
  • soft power
  • China
  • Africa
  • international student mobility