Western students in China ‘very disappointed with teaching’

Students claim that ‘asking questions is not appreciated by most local teachers’

September 10, 2018
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Western students at Chinese universities are “very disappointed with the teaching quality” at their institutions, according to one of the first studies to examine the experience of these learners.

Shuiyun Liu, associate professor of education at Beijing Normal University, conducted in-depth interviews with students from Western countries enrolled in both Chinese- and English-language programmes, and said that the findings show that international students in China face as many challenges as Chinese students do in Western nations.

Teachers dominated the “teaching-learning process”, the students said. Those interviewed said that “asking questions is not appreciated by most local teachers”, and they made clear that they were “very disappointed with the teaching quality”, according to findings presented at a seminar at UCL’s Centre for Global Higher Education on 6 September.

Students also reported that they made little effort in writing assignments, that grades were “very generous” and that there was no formative assessment.

The 30 interviews were conducted between March and August 2018 and included participants from the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and several countries in Europe.

According to China’s Ministry of Education, the country hosted a record 489,200 international students in 2017 – an increase of more than 10 per cent from the previous year – while the number of overseas students seeking a degree grew by 15 per cent to 241,500.

Despite this rapid growth, the “experience of Western students in China has not been fully discussed”, Dr Liu said.

Although some students gave positive reports of the teaching and learning, the findings show that “Chinese universities need to prepare very well before they try to recruit more [international] students to China [by making] the education quality more attractive”, she said.

Dr Liu added that the Chinese government was encouraging universities to develop more English-medium programmes, but international students still found the classroom experience to be “quite Chinese”.

“We try to follow the Western model, but it is hard to make it work very well in Chinese schools and universities,” she said.

However, she said that the interviews found that the “younger generation of teachers are open to dialogue in the classroom and teachers with international experience are…very good at the Western way of teaching”.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (7)

“ quite Chinese” “We try to follow the Western model, but it is hard to make it work very well in Chinese schools and universities” Imagine a Chinese international student in the UK irked because a. the classroom is “ quite English” b. UK schools are not following a Chinese “model” . The scholastic thrill one would think should be in heterogeneity of styles , pedagogical or cultural, so long epistemological sanctity is through it all preserved.
In my opinion, there must not be argued if the classes are conducted in the English language. This is the only reasonable global language platform which is followed by every nations and people. All the students who wish to pursue their degree abroad, they are well prepared for it. Here, I am also a research scholar in China, but I found a great difficulty in communication. The communication is a very important thing to share your feelings and talk about the things. After all, a supervisor has the responsibility to understand scholars things and guide properly. Another interesting fact I wish to share there are many peoples even in the lab speak English, but the English are for normal communication. There is a great lack in understanding the technical facts in English, which makes sometimes very depressed. The second important thing I wish to mention, as we all know that every year the number of international students and scholars are significantly increasing in China. But I feel the focus is on quantity rather than quality. There is a very big issue with dormitory facility, especially in Beijing. Scholars share their rooms with other strangers even after paying much, although many times they can not get a seat. And living outside is not feasible for a student according to their scholarship amount. In conclusion, I wish to say there should be more focus on the quality rather than quantity.
It just seems another way of saying, "We're all in favour of cultural diversity so long as we're not confronted with new ways of doing things even when we actively seek them out." Rule No.1 of foreign travel: If you want things to be done the way they are at home, stay at home.
And of course the assumption being made here is that the Western way is infinitely better.
They’re used to being the centre of the universe. Actually, in china it’s pretty much like it is elsewhere, barring the uk, aus and some universities in the us. uk academics in particular are implored to bend over backwards to ‘engage’ and entertain students in order to keep them ‘satisfied’. It’s more like a holiday camp than a learning environment, especially given the threadbare syllabuses and soft assessments. Problem is that there is a significant number of students are never satisfied. More examples, more feedback. No matter how much they get. The irony is that they never even look at the material, it’s just a knee jerk reaction. The good ones tend to be more mature and appreciate a challenge, even look forward to it. The troublesome group don’t want to work and/or are incapable of doing the work. It’s easy for them to blame others for their own inadequacies or lack of effort, and by treating them as the centre of the universe, universities encourage them to moan and complain about every little thing. So of course they do.
If you read the article carefully, you'll note that one of the complaints is that grades are overly generous and the students aren't being stretched, not that they don't want to work. Nor is there any suggestion in the article that the students aren't looking at the materials provided. The main complaint seems to be that students aren't encouraged to ask questions, perhaps that this is even frowned upon, and that there is no formative assessment - hardly conducive to a successful learning experience. Personally, as an academic, I'd much rather have my students asking questions than sitting silently worrying that they haven't understood something.
If you look at the bell-curve of Chinese grading, there isn't much of a difference in distribution, rather the curve is shifted along the x-axis to reflect a different educational value-system. A pass mark in China (60%) is naturally easier to obtain than 60% in the UK or US but not noticeably more common in a cohort than the UK pass mark (40%). That means it's easier to score 60% but not that it's easier to score better than the equivalent proportion of classmates. The complainers haven't really bothered to find out whether their assumptions on what a particular number means are justified.

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