Factors and conditions that promote or constrain transformative learning in student international mobility programmes

  • Asma Alblooshi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Student international mobility programmes (SIMPS) are becoming increasingly popular within higher education institutions (HEIs). Such programmes are often described as ‘life altering’ experiences, a pathway to raising social consciousness, and promoting cultural and social understanding through the development of ‘global citizens’. This research argues that due to the influence of neoliberalism on internationalisation policies in HEIs, the social benefits of SIMPs are limited.

This qualitative research investigated the impact of SIMPs on seventeen students who took part in SIMPs during their course of study in higher education (HE). Transformative Learning theory (TL) was used as a theoretical framework to evaluate the impact of SIMPs on participating students while also exploring the specific factors and conditions which promoted or constrained change. Data collection methods included the collection of demographic information on research participants, semi-structured interviews and photo-elicitation group discussions. Additionally, structured interviews were conducted with administrative staff at the global opportunities departments at the two institutions attended by the research participants.

Research findings suggest a potential for TL and positive social outcomes through SIMPs. Changes identified based on participants’ responses include, a reassessment of beliefs and values, increased interest in global affairs, a more critical view of the media, increased consciousness and understanding of others, and a desire to live abroad and to learn new languages. These psychological and cognitive changes also resulted in some participants adjusting their behaviour to align with their newly acquired perspectives.

The research findings also identified certain factors and conditions that promoted or constrained changes in participating students. Factors that seemingly promote TL include inter-personal relationships, intercultural contact, institutional support, and increased engagement with formal education. Factors that may have constrained TL are arguably related to internationalisation policies which are informed by neoliberal practices and include a lack of opportunities for returning participants to reflect on or share their experiences, and cultural and ideological hegemony which made certain beliefs and values resistant to scrutiny.

Thesis embargoed until 31st July 2025
Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsMinistry of Education UAE
SupervisorJoanne Hughes (Supervisor) & Dina Belluigi (Supervisor)


  • Transformative learning
  • mobility programmes
  • internationalisation
  • higher education
  • education
  • international experiences
  • Northern Ireland
  • student mobility

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