Educational Practices Abroad
The HE system in China has undergone wide ranging changes and vast expansion since the mid 1990s, differing rates of change mean that conditions may vary significantly between provinces or individual institutions.
- China now has the largest HE system in the world involving a 20% participation rate in the relevant age group. Students from China account for the largest international population globally with the UK as 4 th most popular destination.
- Entry to HE is via the highly competitive National Exam (Gao Kao) for which students expect to prepare for several years. Private tuition is rare. Parents view HE as a passport to good employment and this combines with the one child rule to place heavy pressure on students to succeed.
- The majority of UG students leave the parental home to live on campus in dormitory accommodation. Timetables can be highly organised with long contact hours as well as exercise and evening activities included.
- The legacy of the Confucian view of learning is a didactic approach with students as passive receivers taking extensive notes.
- The traditional lecturer/student relationship tends to be more paternalistic than in the UK. Students could expect advice about career and aspects of life on campus with lecturers taking a proactive approach in identifying and addressing problems.
- Reliance is on a specific textbook and materials provided on the course. Success in exams and coursework depends on assimilation and re-presentation of the material; students would not normally be expected to consult other sources.
- The narrow focus of study and lack of extensive writing tasks provide little opportunity to acquire skills for independent study. Critical and/or innovative thinking is not rewarded.
- Assessment is exam oriented. Where coursework is given there tends to be little systematic feedback. Focus on the traditional final year dissertation is fading due to pressure for students to find employment and internships.
- Libraries are well stocked and used, but mainly for the study of textbooks. Electronic journals are often available but use is limited by lack of knowledge or skills to access.
- The PG sector is growing, attracting Chinese staff who have been teaching abroad as well as foreign students. There is a clear distinction made between UG and PG participants in terms of academic expectations and training.
This is a picture of the results of a particular piece of research which concentrated on universities in the coastal mega-cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. However, it suggests important implications for how we teach international postgraduate students. The limited time available on masters programmes particularly to help international students develop appropriate academic abilities and attitudes suggests that programmes need to be carefully designed with the needs of these students in mind.
What follows is a list of questions which can act as a checklist for auditing existing programmes or in planning new provision:
- What assumptions about academic skills are built into this programme?
- Students are used to gaining information from reading from textbooks, journals, academic texts, professional journalism
- Students have the skills to evaluate the quality of arguments and evidence in the materials they read
- At a conceptual level students understand the conventions of academic debate and argument, and how their own essays and dissertations need to conform to those conventions
- At a practical level, students understand how to read academic writing, using contents pages, indexes, and discrimination in selection of text
- Students are clear about what they can expect and not expect from the academics who teach them
- Are opportunities to develop the above skills and knowledge built incrementally into the design of the overall programme and/or of courses within it?
- Are resources and facilities (eg a student study support centre) available to assist students in developing these areas?
- Are there opportunities for students from different cultures to contribute their knowledge and experience to the programme, rather than being viewed only as problematic and exceptional?