Academic journal article China: An International Journal

The Influence of Chinese Perceptions of Modernisation on the Value of Education: A Case Study of Chinese Students in New Zealand

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

The Influence of Chinese Perceptions of Modernisation on the Value of Education: A Case Study of Chinese Students in New Zealand

Article excerpt

Based on findings from a survey of Chinese students in New Zealand, this paper examines Chinese students' perception of 'modernisation'; and links their evaluation of New Zealand education to issues in contemporary Chinese education and society. By examining the motivating factors for selecting New Zealand as their educational destination, the effects of these factors on their experience in New Zealand, and their comparisons between New Zealand and Chinese education, this study finds that Chinese students' experience in New Zealand closely relates to Chinese views of modernisation and the value of education generally, which are influenced by Chin as drive for economic growth and the rise of materialism. The problems that Chinese students face abroad reflect the dilemmas and challenges in current Chinese society and education.

In recent years, the number of full-fee-paying Chinese students in overseas universities, language academies and high-schools has increased dramatically. This new wave of students studying abroad has emerged and developed against the background of educational globalisation. To many developed countries, China has become an attractive market for their education industry, a sector now vital to their economies. (1)

Liuxue, or studying abroad, has had a long history in China. Especially since the late 1970s when China opened its doors to the world, there have been three distinct waves of Chinese students studying abroad. The first wave refers to the Chinese students who went to America and European countries in the 1980s when the Cultural Revolution ended, and education, science and technology became the core of China's modernisation plan. This generation of Chinese overseas students was regarded as the real elite, because at this time only three per cent of the age grade had access to higher education in China, and students who were selected to study abroad were regarded as the creme de la creme. Moreover, these students all went to well-known developed countries and many obtained doctorate degrees and successfully entered the mainstream of western societies. Therefore, when they returned to China, they brought home not only degrees from western countries but the most advanced technology and management experience that China required. Not surprisingly, these students immediately came to be regarded as national treasures upon their return. (2)

The second wave refers to students who went overseas in the 1990s. This generation of overseas students, with their excellent academic background in China, studied abroad on full scholarships or supported themselves by taking part-time jobs. After graduation many of them worked overseas and then returned to China after the country entered the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Between 1997 and 2000, the Chinese government took measures to attract overseas students to return and work for China's modernisation. Consequently, the number of returned students increased considerably, and a new term--haigui (returning from overseas)--was created to refer to these returned students who either held important positions in foreign firms or joint ventures in China, were employed by well established companies or started their own business. Therefore, at that time, the title haigui implied a high salary. (3)

The glory of haigui, in turn, had a profound impact on the third wave of Chinese students going overseas. First, the preferential treatment and higher salaries the haigui received enhanced a Chinese mentality that "things foreign are better than things Chinese". Degrees from overseas were more highly prized than those from China's own universities. Second, after China joined the WTO, a fever for mastering foreign languages, especially English, developed along with the concept of globalisation. People believed that foreign language skills were one of the basic criteria for a shijieren (global citizen), meaning the person should be able to communicate with people from different countries and with different cultural backgrounds, and could work and live anywhere in the world. …

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