Border Experiments and New Topologies of Control: Managing international student mobilities during and after Covid-19

In the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic, higher education and international student mobilities (ISM) are facing unprecedented disruption – university campuses are operating remotely, travel is restricted or suspended and international students are faced with completing degrees without in-person contact. States and institutions are tentatively considering proposals to rapidly reboot ISM including the demarcation and establishment of travel ‘bubbles’ or ‘corridors’, safe country lists, university participation in screening and quarantining, and new technologies for tracking and tracing potential outbreaks. These potential experiments in managing ISM promise to make mobility possible while containing the biomedical risks of virus transmission. They also reconstitute border topologies in a way that both reveals existing biopolitical dimensions of migration and ISM as well as establishing new terrains for intervention, experimentation and coordination. In this presentation, I reflect on the reconfiguration of borders in actual and potential responses to Covid-19, drawing particularly but not exclusively on the context of New Zealand, a small Anglophone settler colony where international education has been a significant source of both institutional income and broader economic activity. I pay particular attention to considering two questions: what kind of biopolitical subjects are generated in niche border regimes to get international students back sooner? and, What are the emergent regional and geopolitical alignments imagined in new border topologies?

Francis L. Collins is Professor of Geography and Director of the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis at the University of Waikato. His research centres on international migration and includes projects exploring international students and urban transformation, higher education and the globalisation of cities, labour migration, marginalisation and exploitation, time and youth migration, and aspirations and desires. Francis is the author of Global Asian City: migration, desire and the politics of encounter in 21st century Seoul (Wiley 2018) and co-editor of Intersections of Inequality, Migration and Diversification (Palgrave 2020) and Aspiration, Desire and the Drivers of Migration (Routledge 2020).