China told to reform education model to become global student hub

Study highlights how international students are treated as ‘a separate cohort’ and student advisors function like ‘nannies’

August 3, 2020
Friends riding retro bicycles along forbidden city
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Chinese universities must better integrate overseas students on their campuses and give them the freedom to develop a sense of responsibility if the country is to realise its goal of becoming the largest provider of international education this half-century, according to a new study.

The paper, which is based on insights from Chinese university staff after they had been exposed to international education practices in Canada, highlights how institutions in mainland China tend to treat international students as “a separate cohort”. Instead of being admitted by an academic department, they are usually enrolled in a faculty of international education, which “houses all international students under one roof” and as such “becomes a silo or a small campus within a big campus”, according to the research.

This is further reinforced by the fact that international students have separate accommodation because Chinese student dorms are not eligible for “foreign national temporary residence”.

The study, published in Higher Education Research & Development, adds that student advisers at Chinese universities function like a “nanny”, managing all matters related to their students, including reminding overseas students when their study permits expire and contacting them if they are missing from their dormitory overnight.

Students in China are also typically required to attend programmes or events that the university deems they will benefit from. Some Chinese staff said that the Western approach of optional attendance meant that students who do attend are more engaged and the programmes themselves are more student-centred.

The paper argues that China must transition to a new model of international student education if it is to realise its goal – as expressed by education minister Chen Baosheng in 2017 – of becoming the most desirable destination for international students by 2049. There have also been suggestions that East Asia will emerge as a regional hub for international students in the wake of Covid-19, with China potentially becoming a major competitor to English-speaking countries.

The study says that Chinese universities must move to a “convergent model in international student management”, in which international students are better integrated with their domestic peers, and transition from a top-down, hand-holding approach to a student-centred, hands-off approach.

This would enable China to increase the scale of international education, because a hands-off approach is less resource-intensive, and give students “the space and freedom to develop independently and to learn from their mistakes and even failures”, it adds.  

The research is based on perceptions and observations from 39 staff at universities in mainland China, all of whom are directly involved in international student education and undertook a professional development programme at a university in Canada.

Wei Liu, administrator of the Global Academic Leadership Development programme at the University of Alberta and co-author of the paper, said that there was already an overt government policy to better integrate international education in China, but the existing model should not be rejected entirely.

“Underlying the two different models [in China and Canada] are two different cultures in student development, and the Chinese approach to student development where the university undertakes more liability for student success has its advantages and should be maintained,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

为什么中国学生宿舍不符合 “外国公民临时居住”?
May i know the title of this article?

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