An exploration of Chinese students’ learning experiences in China-Australia ‘2+2’ articualtion programmes: In between two systems

Kun Dai
University of Queensland
September, 2018

Research has broadly explored the topics of transnational higher education (TNHE) and the forms of TNHE (e.g. articulation programmes) in the Chinese context from many perspectives, such as developmental history, policy, and quality assurance. Enrolling in an articulation programme, for example, under the 2+2 mode, students usually study in China for the first two years and then they physically move to a foreign university to complete the remaining two years of learning. Due to this particular setting, students usually engage in the process of intercultural adjustment. Various theoretical frameworks for conceptualising the process of intercultural adjustment have been proposed, for example, the stress-adaptation-development model. However, there has been limited research that attempts to investigate the learning experiences and intercultural adjustment issues of Chinese students in such articulation programmes, precisely, the 2+2 setting. This study thus aimed to investigate Chinese students’ learning experiences in China-Australia 2+2 articulation programmes.

A case study based qualitative inquiry was adopted to explore students’ learning experiences. Based on interviews with twelve Chinese 2+2 students who were studying in Australia, I critically analysed data by using both inductive and deductive lenses. My individual experiences as a former 2+2 student added to the analysis and data presentation via reflective-narratives, which made me dynamically shift roles between being a 2+2 student and currently a doctoral researcher in this study. My multiple roles as both insider and outsider in relation to the research helped me understand the experiences of the research participants, as well as my own in a comparative perspective.

The learning trajectories of these students indicated that they experienced changes regarding their senses of agency, identity, and belonging as 2+2 students. Specifically, most students were able to actively engage in intercultural adjustment processes in the move from China to Australia. In contrast, some participants experienced this journey with passive and negative attitudes. This study also found that the 2+2 setting created an in-between learning space that provoked students to dynamically shift their senses of agency, identity, and belonging during cross-system learning. The contours of the in-between learning space were shaped by Internet-based technology, assessment modes, teaching strategies, and university academic contexts. These factors not only ensured that students experienced educational differences, but also enabled them to adopt flexible views and utilise multiple strategies to adapt to Chinese and Australian systems with associated complex learning experiences. The differences between these elements in the two systems indicated that there were many academic gaps between programme partners, which potentially influenced the quality and experience of learning. On the one hand, this study found that learning in 2+2 programmes was a process that encouraged students to have a sense of in-betweenness, as they continually (re)shaped their senses of identity, agency, and belonging to understand and be able to deal with cross-system differences of various kinds. On the other hand, their various experiences also reflected the existence of an in-between space, which provoked complex and dynamic reactions to these educational differences.

Consequently, this study makes several contributions to the research literature. First, students’ 2+2 learning experiences not only partly affirmed the stress-adaptation-development model but also demonstrated that not all students could reach the final development stage with progressive attitudes. Second, this study suggested an in-between learning space in the 2+2 model, which offers an original perspective to understand students’ learning journeys in articulation programmes. Third, the researcher, as an in-betweener in the study, provided an additional distinctive lens for understanding intercultural learning and adjustment processes in articulation programmes. For implications and recommendations, this study argues that universities should carefully consider the cultural and educational differences between different countries and take account of these in designing and managing such articulation programmes. More consideration needs to be given to the learning-related elements in articulation programmes to make intercultural adjustment more fluent. There needs to be better articulation between the parts of 2+2 programmes. Potential students should also be given a critical awareness of the possible trajectories of learning in such an educational setting. More importantly, such learning processes, as this research demonstrates, provide a lens to critically view students as in-betweeners, who continuously shift between the home and host contexts with a sophisticated sense of changing and flexible agency, identity, and belonging.

Title of Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

University Awared: The University of Queensland

Date Awarded: 10, September, 2018

Current Insitution: The University of Queensland

Contact: Room 533, Level 5, Building 24, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, 4072, QLD, Australia.