Homecoming : foreign-educated returnees' experience of reentry into Chinese Universities in Yunnan Province, China : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
With the growing number of foreign-educated graduates returning to China, few studies
have been done on what happens when they return, especially those who work in Chinese
universities. The purpose of the study is to explore the re-entry experiences of returnees
who have been employed in higher education institutions in Yunnan Province, China,
from three different perspectives: the perspectives of returnees, non-returnees and
administrators via one-to-one interviews. The study assesses what difficulties and
challenges these returnees face when they returned to China to work at Chinese academic
communities and also make recommendations on how Chinese universities can make use
of returnees’ social and cultural capital based on the findings of the study.
In this study qualitative and quantitative research methods have been used to collect
information from different sources. Qualitative method was adopted as the primary
method and quantitative as supporting role. Twenty-four foreign-educated returnees and
11 non-foreign-educated graduates were interviewed. Nine management leaders were
also interviewed to explore the organisational perspectives in dealing with the returnees.
Simultaneously three different group questionnaires were distributed to these participants
to collect quantitative data.
Analysis of the data suggested that these returnees encountered challenges in re-adapting
into Chinese universities, both academically and culturally, even though they were
regarded as having social and cultural capital advantages. The data indicated that
returnees had difficulties in utilising their knowledge in Chinese universities. They had
limited influence on the universities’ research, teaching, and management or on changing
the academic environment. The Chinese academic culture, the administration systems and
returnees’ changing of cultural perceptions helped to influence returnees’ re-entry
experiences. Among these factors, academic re-adaptation and the bureaucratic system
were the two factors that influenced returnees’ experiences most. The returnees reported
negative attitudes towards Chinese universities in two areas: the Chinese academic
culture; the bureaucratic nature of the Chinese universities.
It is argued in this study that if the Chinese government and the management levels of
universities want to make use of returnees’ social and cultural capital, universities should
build a healthy organisational culture and improve their services to returnees. It is critically important for Chinese universities to establish a more reasonable assessment system to guide research and teaching. Also, in a healthy academic environment, research should not be connected with bureaucratic power. That is, universities’ management systems would focus on professionalism instead of managerialism. Further, establishing a supportive management system will help returnees to re-adapt to their Chinese academic life smoothly.
For returnees, it is suggested that they should hold realistic expectations towards Chinese academic and social culture in order to manage issues in re-adaptation. To deal with workplace cultural and sociocultural issues, it is important for them to communicate with colleagues and friends as often as possible, thus to help them become familiar with the cues and norms of the home culture again. Further, returnees would need to actively establish research teams that include both returnees and non-returnee colleagues. It will help them to employ their knowledge learned overseas, and at the same time, to build effective interpersonal relationships with non-returnees and other returnees.