Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Experiences of Chinese International Doctoral Students in Canada Who Withdrew: A Narrative Inquiry

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Experiences of Chinese International Doctoral Students in Canada Who Withdrew: A Narrative Inquiry

Article excerpt


Mobility and migration are features of this global era. Thus, higher education has become a worldwide phenomenon and countries in North America have enlarged their quotas for international students. The most recent statistics show that students from China represent the number one source for international students in both the US and Canada. In the literature, the high scores of Chinese students in math, reading and science on international tests such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) stimulated hot debate about learning styles and model Chinese learners among scholars (Dronkers, 2015; Phillips, 2013; V Strauss, 2014). However, despite their reputation as "model students", Chinese learners have also been criticized by some Western scholars as not complying with learning standards that are valued in Western traditions such as critical thinking and creativity. It has been argued that Confucian Heritage Culture has impeded the interaction of Chinese international students with their teachers and restricted collaboration with peers; thereby, actually limiting educational achievement in Western settings.

Chinese students make great efforts to come to the host country and study as international students; however, some of them do not encounter success when they undertake graduate studies in the West. What prompts those "model students" to withdraw from their studies before completion? Is this because of cultural differences on education between the West and the East?

Since student voices have been neglected in the vast literature probing the experiences of international graduate students, this study elicited the voices of Chinese international doctoral students who have withdrawn from their studies.


The research literature on withdrawal in higher education is vast. By 1970, retention had become an increasingly common topic within and among college and university campuses in North America (Berger & Lyon, 2005). For instance, using large-scale data, Astin (1977) concluded that involvement was the key to retention: the more physical and psychological energy a student invests in college studying, the more likely this student was to complete a degree. In Bean's studies (1980, 1983) he investigated the correlation between organizational attributes and reward structures with student satisfaction and dropout. He found that men and women had different reasons for dropout, and among the variables he tested, institutional commitment, students' performance, campus organizations, practical value (of programs), and opportunity to transfer were the top five factors that affected student dropout.

In the late 1970s, Vincent Tinto started to develop his theory on college student early departure. Tinto's theory has become the dominant conceptual framework for persistence studies for the past three decades (Berger & Lyon, 2005; Braxton & Hirschy, 2004), and the present study used his model as a framework. Compare to other models, Tinto's model puts students' experiences into consideration and investigates the interaction between the students and the institutions. His model argues that the early departure of individuals from institutions is "a longitudinal process of interactions between an individual with given attributes, skills, and dispositions (intentions and commitments) and other members of the academic and social system of the institution" (Tinto, 1987, p. 113). The experience of individuals in that institution modifies their initial intentions and commitments.

A student's positive experience reinforces persistence in that they intensify the goal of college completion and heighten the commitment between the individual and the institution; whereas negative experiences weaken the intentions and commitments and lead to a higher chance of leaving.


Based on Tinto's model, other researchers and scholars have conducted empirical studies to test its efficacy and applicability in explaining the dropout behavior of students in higher education. …

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