The Chinese learner” or “learners from China”? A multiple case study of Chinese masters’ students in the University of Bath

  • Mei Tian

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis presents research into Chinese students’ learning experiences in the UK. In recent years this has become an important issue given the fact that students from China now form the largest international student group in British universities. In this study, I explore problems of stereotyping ‘the Chinese learner’. It aims to challenge essentialist conceptualisation which sees individual students from China as undifferential collective members marked by a unique and fixed set of cultural scripts. A qualitative multiple-case study was conducted to investigate experiences of 13 Chinese postgraduate students in a UK university. Specifically, an audio diary method combined with various types of interviews, observation and internet-mediated methods were employed. In addition, the research design evolved under critical reflection as the study progressed. The research was permeated by complex social interactions. This in turn required careful attention to ethical considerations and the conventions that governed such interaction. The research reveals how diverse meanings and understandings the participants derived from their experiences combined to impact on their perceptions and actions. Firstly, the findings indicate the interrelationship between different contextual factors. They show that the students’ learning performance was influenced by various social activities. The participants, aware of the challenges they face, employed diverse strategies to survive and succeed in new cultural and academic environments. Finally, the research reveals the reformation and reconstruction of self-identity as crucial consequences of learning in the UK. In the conclusion, I summarize the findings and give recommendations. Specifically, I stress my stance of problematising an over-generalised depiction of ‘the Chinese learner’ and call for much greater attention to be paid to the complexity of each individual, and the power of individual agency. I also urge future research to turn to methodologies sensitive to individual difference, without necessarily denying similarities that may be attributed to shared cultural constructs. Finally, a model as a base on which to study students’ experiences is tentatively proposed to aid future research.
Date of Award1 Aug 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJ Lowe (Supervisor) & Trevor Grimshaw (Supervisor)

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