Scholars in a suitcase turn off Chinese

Students dissatisfied with contact hours, QAA overseas provision review shows. Jack Grove writes

May 16, 2013

“Fly-in, fly-out” academics are a source of frustration for Chinese students taking UK degrees in their own country, a new report says.

Around 38,000 students in China were studying for qualifications taught by a total of 70 British higher education institutions last year, either through a branch campus, partnerships with Chinese universities or via distance-learning.

However, a Quality Assurance Agency review into overseas provision in China, published on 16 May, questions whether UK staff are spending enough time teaching students on their degree programmes, with contact hours mostly delivered by Chinese academics.

While the use of “fly-in, fly-out faculty” suited UK universities, “it is less well liked by the students in China, who are faced with perhaps too much opportunity for independent learning between the teaching blocks”, says the report, titled Review of UK Transnational Education in China.

Most students interviewed by the QAA during its two-week visit to China last year expressed a desire for “more face-to-face contact with academic staff from the relevant UK university”, the review says.

The absence of senior UK staff can also hinder the successful introduction of courses in China, with expert advice needed to reconcile the different approaches to teaching of British and Chinese academics.

A partnership between the University of Central Lancashire and North China University of Technology, set up in 2005 to deliver electronics courses, was noted by reviewers as having “insufficient” numbers of Uclan staff in China during a crucial two-year period.

Several problems with the double-degree programme had not been addressed despite being highlighted some time ago, the QAA report adds.

Uclan said it appreciated the report’s comments but also pointed to “positive” reaction in the study to other aspects of its provision.

Reviewers note that another institution, the University of Surrey - which operates a partnership with Dongbei University of Finance and Economics - had recently stopped using “fly-in, fly-out” academics in favour of staff based in China.

The report’s publication follows recent calls by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, for UK higher education institutions to teach more students overseas, rather than encouraging them to attend university in the UK - widely viewed as a reaction to tougher student visa requirements designed to cut net immigration.

However, the QAA raises several concerns about applying such a policy to China, citing the English-language skills of many students and the difficulty of integrating British examination methods into Chinese universities.

Chinese institutions rarely use the International English Language Testing Scheme entrance exams required by British universities for overseas students and often devise their own tests, making it difficult to guarantee a certain level of English, the study says.

While all institutions surveyed complied with QAA regulations, reviewers say the British method of second-marking and external examining is “culturally difficult” for Chinese academics, who may find the approach “unfamiliar or even unnecessary”.

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