Problem statement

During the course of their lives, young adults have become increasingly mobile for education or career purposes. However, the pandemic has greatly influenced international mobility. The spread of COVID-19 has stopped migration across national and partially even across regional borders, at least temporarily. Experts are of the opinion that regular mobility across borders will only return to pre-crisis levels in a few years. Researchers argue that future mobility patterns will be influenced by the long-term effects of these recent restrictions on mobility and by the psychological effects of lockdowns..

Objectives and research questions

The pandemic will have an effect on future mobility aspirations of young adults, which need to be understood: Will young people in future still be willing to go abroad for purposes of employment, career, or education, or are such plans now being discarded? Does the pandemic perhaps rather contribute to a more intensive wish to become (internationally) mobile? To what extent did the perspective of international students regarding remaining or returning home change through the pandemic? What are the mobility perspectives of Austrian students from other federal states at the completion of their studies: does the pandemic lend more weight to any wishes of returning to their families of origin? Immobility decisions are closely connected to spatial preferences, which in turn are reconsidered in light of the pandemic. Furthermore, digitalisation has led to changed perspectives on spatial needs and the overcoming of distance as well as on being present at work and at educational institutions.

This research project therefore wishes to enquire after the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the im/mobility aspirations of young university graduates. It considers the mobility intentions of young people in light of the following research questions:

  • To what extent are aspirations towards international education and employment being thwarted, deferred, or changed?
  • To what extent are alternatives to international further education and career opportunities being found through digital opportunities?
  • To what extent do young people wish to remain at their current place of residence or to change domicile after the pandemic?

Young graduates and students at the end of their educational career will be questioned regarding mobility plans that may have been changed or discarded. The research project wishes to find out to what extent mobility aspirations of young graduates have been influenced by the pandemic. It is directed at students and graduates of Viennese universities and it focusses on future decisions about remaining in or leaving the city of Vienna.

The proposed research is based on the theoretical framework of immobility research, which has lately increasingly won the attention of population geographers (Gruber 2021). This, in turn, is based on the observation that mobility and staying both are subject to decision-making processes. This research approach gives emphasis to the fact that spatial decisions take place within a continuum between mobility and immobility. Immobilities and mobilities alike find themselves settled between voluntary and involuntary decisions, which are influenced by legal frameworks, available resources, and individual aspirations.

Research methods

  • The im/mobility aspirations of young university graduates and students, as well as potential changes in their life planning caused by COVID-19 and their perspectives on remaining in the city and possible hindrances to remaining (e.g., lack of financial and social resources) will be elicited in an online survey.
  • Subsequently, qualitative interviews with students and young graduates will enquire after changed motivations, (international) career or educational plans, potential consequences of the pandemic on future career development, as well as future staying or mobility and immobility plans of educated young people in relation to the location of Vienna.

Students who have completed all or the greater part of their degree in Vienna and who now stand at the end of their educational and at the beginning of their professional careers (master’s and doctoral students and graduates) will be at the centre of attention in this study.

Project team

Dr. Elisabeth Gruber


City of Vienna, MA7

Research period

October 2021 - May 2022