Exploring internationalisation of higher education: Chinese postgraduate students’ oral participation in English during their experience at a UK university
The increasing complexity and widening scope of internationalisation of higher education call for empirical studies on international students in order to enhance the quality of student experience and educational services, which in return improves institutions’ and nations’ competitiveness in the global higher education market. Despite the growing volume of literature on international student experience, particularly on Chinese students studying in Western countries, there seems to be a lack of focus on research regarding international students’ English oral participation (OP) needs both in the academic and socio-personal contexts. Furthermore, recent studies have revealed a growing diversity within the Chinese student cohort, which is traditionally viewed as a homogenous group. However, individual differences and their relations to students’ adjustment and adaptation are insufficiently studied. This study took place in an internationally renowned research-focused university in the UK. It aimed to explore Chinese postgraduate students’ living and learning experiences in the UK, with a particular focus on students’ English OP needs. Drawing from theories and research in the fields of internationalisation of higher education and English language education, especially regarding international student experience, English for specific purposes, willingness to communicate, and needs analysis, this study adopted a qualitative approach to the inquiry. Data were collected primarily from interviews with 20 Chinese postgraduate (Masters and PhD) students across 10 different schools in the case university, followed by two focus groups with the interview participants. This study showed that although OP did not seem to influence some Chinese postgraduate students’ academic outcomes directly and it was not essential in many students’ everyday life, OP played an important role in students’ satisfaction with their overall study abroad experience. More meaningful intercultural communication in both academic and socio-personal domains was desired since most Chinese students’ current English OP experience was irregular, insufficient, or superficial. Several mismatches between Chinese students’ expectations of English communication in the UK and the reality were revealed. While many similarities were observed between these students’ English OP needs, their OP also differed vastly in the academic and socio-personal settings, particularly between students from different disciplines, levels of study, and social communities of practice. Therefore, a rounded view is suggested when interpreting Chinese international students’ experiences and needs. An iceberg model of OP is put forward to illustrate the complexity and fluidity of linguistic, cognitive, psychological, and social- contextual factors identified to contribute to Chinese students’ willingness for OP. A range of suggestions for implementation and pedagogical implications are put forward, central to which is a guided autonomous approach, highlighting the important role of institutes in supporting international students at different stages of their journeys abroad and students’ responsibility for individual development. More high-quality opportunities for meaningful intercultural engagement are highly recommended, including more diversity of opportunities, more transferable skills- based activities, creating a balanced host community, and better spatial arrangement on campus. In addition, international students are advised to enhance reflexivity and learner autonomy, and specific suggestions are provided to help develop local students’ intercultural competence and university staff’s professionalisation. This thesis also makes an original contribution by proposing two International Student Experience Prior-During-Finish Frameworks to illustrate students’ potential English communication encounters and provide a framework for multi-directional action plans. With the collaboration between different stakeholders, the successful implementation of these suggestions can have a meaningful and positive impact on facilitating the internationalisation of higher education in intercultural UK universities.