This article analyses doctoral education programmes in South Africa with a particular focus on student mobility. It investigates pull and push factors as a conceptual framework, arguing that the patterns of student mobility in doctoral education programmes in South Africa follow the patterns of international student mobility elsewhere, which are driven mainly by the quest for better opportunities. Contrary to previous studies, which do not focus on the role of the state, this article sees the state as playing a key role in facilitating such mobility. This article uses comparative education methods to compare the patterns of enrolment of doctoral education students in South Africa during 2005 and 2009. Statistical data from the Department of Higher Education and Training were used to analyse the enrolment patterns of doctoral students in South African universities. Secondary sources in the form of government documents, a literature review and internet sources were employed in contextualising the study.