Global Education Industry and Chinese Undergraduate Students in the US

By July 2017, almost a third of international students in the US came from China (362,368), making them the largest group in comparison to their peers from other nations (Smith, 2017). Despite their contribution the American education industry in terms of tuition, diversity, and labor (as research and teaching assistants), they often face many challenges that are common among international students but also manifest in unique ways specific to their ethnic and national origin. Prominent among them are language barriers, cultural shocks, and adaptation to different pedagogical styles and academic expectations both on campus and in local communities. As the enrollment number of Chinese students increases steadily in the past decade, there’s an urgent need for American educational institutions to respond to and tackle these challenges to help these students better acculturate into campus and community communities.

At UNH, we have about 570 Chinese students in 2017, which represents the largest international student group on campus, and the number is growing annually. Many of them had entered through the “Navitas” program–a global education corporation specializing in bringing international students through an alternative “pathway” to higher-education institutions in North America, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. That is, unlike their peers who are admitted to American universities through standardized application process such as taking SAT and TOEFL exams, international students who entered through the program are first recruited into Navitas’ own language training program on campus and then transition into formal curriculum. These students share similar experiences with their international peers on other campuses in the US, however, they also encounter a unique set of problems in the small New England town of Durham.

The purpose of our research is threefold. On a macro level, we want to map the emerging “pathway” education program as part of a global value chain of knowledge and human talent production. Its rapid expansion in the past decade reflects the changing face of American campus and the privatization, commercialization, and globalization of American higher-education industry as nodes in an international network. Specifically with the case of UNH and Nevitas, we are interested in the opportunities and challenges brought by this public-private partnership. On a micro level, we would like to explore the acculturation experiences of these Chinese international students in the classroom and in local communities, and how their subjective transformations as transnationally-mobile individuals intersect with their current locale, and their class, gender, racial, and national identities. These theoretically-informed and empirically grounded research will help us identify potential problems and new possibilities created by these emerging global pathway education programs, and in particular to offer suggestions to UNH to better cope with its changing and internationalizing student body.