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Progressive Movement

Researchers Study Factors Behind Interregional Student Mobility

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Benchmark data and the standard of living in the regions of Russia affect student mobility, according to a study by HSE Centre for Institutional Studies researchers Ilya Prakhov and Maria Bocharova. Strong graduates from more educated and wealthy families are more likely to enrol in a university far from home, but the economy usually affects such a decision. High wages draw students towards the regions, while a high cost of living pushes them away.

The Unified State Exam (USE) has made strong universities more accessible for applicants from the regions, but social mobility does not always work for them. Socioeconomic factors inhibit student migration, including individual factors such as academic performance and family background, as well as regional factors like standard of living and the education market in the student’s hometown and the town to which they have moved. The authors of the paper studied student mobility predictors in a survey of nearly 1,170 individuals and they also used data from the HSE longitudinal study Trajectories in Education and Careers.

Impact of Gender and Academics

Both internal (biographical) and external (institutional) factors affect a student’s decision-making when selecting a university in a different region. The first concerns a student’s gender and academic performance, as well as the socioeconomic situation in his or her family. The parents’ level of education and salaries are also important. Institutional factors include living conditions in the region: salary levels, living wage, the situation on the labour market, and university options.

‘Personal data’ show that young men are more mobile than young women. This might be by explained by their expectations and ambitions. Young people are prepared to invest more in their education since they are ultimately counting on higher salaries.

Performance on the USE also contributes to mobility. Students with good USE scores have more options when deciding on a school, as their chances of getting into a strong university are higher.

Researchers are considering the role of students’ achievements and their views towards human capital, that is, a set of knowledge and skills. High performers invest more into this and therefore expect a higher return. For them the quality of education is key, and they are prepared to move to a different region in order to study at a stronger university. 

The Power of Family

At the same time, a lack of financial and moral support can stop someone from moving away for school, with students’ own families stopping them from moving. The level of education a student’s parents have impacts the mobility of high-performing students. In less educated families, college applicants move less often, which often blocks their social mobility. The contrary is also true — children of parents with a university degree are more mobile. These families are better informed about the situation on the education market and about what universities can offer. They are more likely to help their children correctly manoeuvre the university selection process and are prepared to cover educational expenses. These kinds of families place a high value on higher education.


A college applicant’s mobility is connected to his or her parents’ income. Moving involves large expenses, which is why students from wealthier families move more. Other studies also note the role of social capital in migration. Friendships and connections facilitate a move, and if friends or relatives already live in the location a student is moving to, they provide the student with help and advice. This makes it easier for the student to adapt and lowers the cost of moving.

The Appeal of Prosperity 

The economic climate in the regions, that is, in the hometown of the student and the location of his or her future school, also impacts mobility. Researchers call the first region the ‘school’ region (where the student receives a secondary education), while the second is called the ‘university’ region (where the chosen university is located). ‘Economic climate’ includes salary levels, unemployment rates, taxes, the living wage, etc.

According to various research data, two scenarios are possible. The first entails a negative correlation; if average wages in the region rise, fewer people leave the region. A positive correlation also exists, however. The more prosperous a city is, the more financial opportunities people have to move to a better location.

The study conducted by Ilya Prakhov and Maria Bocharova shows that college applicants go from less prosperous regions to more prosperous ones. In other words, the higher wages are in the ‘university town,’ the more attractive the town is. Students project this income level onto their own future earnings. If a student finds a job in this region, he or she will earn more than at home. Conversely, if people make more in the student’s hometown, it is better to stay there.

Living Expenses and University Options

There is, however, one thing that complicates a move to a more prosperous city — the high cost of living in the ‘university region,’ specifically the cost of food, transportation, utilities, etc. The more expensive these are, the less likely it is that a student will move to the region. Larger salaries are attractive, but this is accompanied by a high living wage.

The overall situation on the higher education market is also important. College applicants are traditionally drawn towards regions with strong universities and cities with a richer selection of schools. This includes Moscow and St. Petersburg, of course, as well as university towns such as Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, etc. If the ‘school region’ has enough universities, moving is not considered.

Authors of the Study:
Ilya Prakhov, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Economic Sciences’ Department of Applied Economics and Research Fellow in the Centre for Institutional Studies
Maria Bocharova, Research Assistant in the Centre for Institutional Studies
September 28