China and Higher Education: Navigating Uncertain Futures (Online event)
This conference is free to attend and will take place flexibly online between 7th and 11th December 2020.
The China and Higher Education annual conference series at the Manchester Institute of Education (The University of Manchester) brings together international experts on a wide range of topics related to higher education in China and China’s role in the international higher education sector. The Call for Papers for this 2020 conference builds on our previous events in 2018 (focusing on the Belt and Road Initiative) and 2019 (focusing on knowledge diplomacy).
China plays an important role in the global higher education sector. Within China, higher education is increasingly viewed as a tool to ‘enhance its international, political, and diplomatic relations’ (Pan, 2013, p. 253). Indeed, China is the world’s leading source country of international students, with over 600,000 estimated to be studying worldwide (OECD, 2018). There is also an emerging narrative of China as a hub for receiving international students (Wen, Hu, & Hao, 2018), poised to meet targets of hosting over 500,000 international students in 2020 (Kennedy, 2018). Additionally, China has recently become the world’s leading producer of scientific papers (National Science Foundation, 2018).
Yet, the global higher education sector presently finds itself in a period of uncertainty. Van Asselt (2000, p. 2) argues that there are three aspects of uncertainty; it is multi-problem, multi-dimensional, and multi-scale. This means that society faces a ‘tangled web of related problems’, with challenges across many disciplines and in different geographical and temporal scales. A variety of academic perspectives offer a rich range of ways to understand the notion of uncertainty and responses to it (Bammer and Smithson, 2012). Two key responses include planning and strategising. Planning scholars understand and manage uncertainty by focusing on what is unknown (Rowe, 1994) as well as what is known (Abbot, 2005), while strategy scholars highlight the difficulties that uncertainty raises through imagining trade-offs in different scenarios (Wernerfelt & Karnani, 1987). Both approaches acknowledge that ‘there is more information we do not know than we do know for making most critical decisions’ (Rowe, 1994, p.743).
In terms of China and higher education, a number of uncertainties currently face the sector. The most immediately apparent of these is COVID-19, which has disrupted higher education mobility patterns, shifted many academic activities online, and created financial instability in the global sector (IAU, 2020). However, the pandemic has only exacerbated a momentum of change and uncertainty that has been developing in recent years. For example, changes to student mobility patterns have led to a rise of regional hubs for international students, meaning China is now a significant host of international students (Wen & Hu, 2019). Sino-foreign relations have also impacted upon Chinese international student mobility to countries such as the United States or Australia (Foreign Policy, 2019; Guardian, 2020), which will play a significant role in the future of international higher education, although limitedly researched. At the same time, perceptions about the value of an international degree are in flux, particularly in relation to perceived employability of international graduates (Huang & Turner, 2018). In this regard, it has been theorised that we are approaching the end of a ‘third wave’ of international student mobility (Choudaha, 2017), and, while the future remains uncertain, it is clear that China will play an important role.
China plays an important role in the global higher education sector
Therefore, the China and Higher Education 2020 conference (#ChinaHE20) focuses on the theme of uncertain futures, both in terms of China’s outward and inward internationalisation. In particular, we consider the following substantive questions:
- What role does China play in the current disruptive forces shaping the global higher education sector?
- What is the role or impact of uncertainty in regards to China and higher education?
- What do we know about the future of China and higher education? What remains unknown?
- What gaps remain in the research on China and higher education?
In doing so, we invite participants to reflect on a wide range of uncertainties, including, but not limited to:
- How has China’s role in international higher education changed in recent years and looking into the future?
- What is the impact of changing migration patterns of staff or students on China’s role in the global higher education sector?
- How do Sino-foreign relationships impact upon the global higher education sector?
- How have ideas about the value of international degrees changed within and outside of China?
- What role does online learning play in the future for China and higher education?
- How has COVID-19 affected China’s role in the global higher education sector?
In light of increasing uncertainty facing higher education this conference brings together international experts and policymakers to unpack the changing role of China in the sector. The conference will approach this topic from the perspective of both China as a provider of international higher education and as a sender of Chinese international students worldwide. Similarly, discussions will focus on both the macro-level, global influence of China as a higher education stakeholder and on the micro-level experiences of students, teachers, and institutions.