Conditional Convergence: A Study of Chinese International Students’ Experience and the New Zealand Knowledge Economy
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Since the mid-1990s, New Zealand has become a popular study destination for international students. In its neo-liberal knowledge economy policies including an export education policy, international education agenda, and skilled immigration policy, international students are conceptualised as ideal policy subjects: free, rational and self-interested knowledge consumers and globally available human resources. International postgraduates are expected to contribute to New Zealand’s knowledge economy with their knowledge and skills. However, both the statistics and empirical research suggest that these students’ experiences do not always coincide with the policy expectations owing to the involvement of multiple political and non-political factors and actors including international students themselves. Cultural differences in particular, generate extra challenges for these policies to recruit and serve international students and retain international graduates from non-Western cultural backgrounds including those from Mainland China. The gap between the policy intentions and these students’ experiences draws our attention to the roles of multiple regimes of government and individual students as active agencies in overseas study and raises the question of how the two aspects can converge to achieve a ‘good’ overseas study in a complicated culture-crossing policy environment.
This thesis takes a post-structuralist approach and uses an adapted Foucauldian conceptual framework that develops the concept of governmentality to explore the experiences of a group of postgraduate Chinese international students studying at two New Zealand universities. It combines documentary research, an online survey and 56 in-depth interviews for data collection with culturally informed discursive, Foucauldian descriptive statistical and Foucauldian narrative analyses of data. The findings show that the convergence between New Zealand’s knowledge economy policies and Chinese students’ experiences of ‘good’ overseas study is not straightforward. This thesis argues that Chinese international students are not made and governed by a singular political power like the New Zealand Government but by multiple regimes of practices through which these students are assembled. Chinese cultural mechanisms such as filial piety, reciprocity and loyalty, play a crucial role in constituting the field of international education and assembling regimes of subjectification. Moreover, these cultural mechanisms are not only embodied in governmental technologies themselves as technical means, but also activated through the coexistence of multiple rationalities, the hybridisation of regimes of subjectification and cross-cultural applications of these technologies.
This thesis helps explain both ways in which Chinese students get ‘made into’ subjects who are willing to constitute themselves as international students obliged to come to New Zealand and contribute to the knowledge economy and also the constellations of factors motivating them to move away from on-going, constant and regular engagement with New Zealand as a knowledge economy. With its findings, the thesis attempts not only to provide valuable policy recommendations but also to contribute to sociological understandings of the global governance of border-crossing population movements and comparative studies in the sociology of education.
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