Expectations and experiences of Chinese university students in Australia - with Fran Martin

Guest: Fran Martin, Associate Professor and Reader in Cultural Studies, University of Melbourne

Host: James Laurenceson, Deputy Director, Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI), University of Technology Sydney

For about a year now, there has been heated debate about Chinese international students on Australian university campuses. In 2017 media reported on four incidents involving Chinese students protesting lecture content. Some commentators have claimed that Chinese students are brainwashed prior to arrival, spy or protest on behalf of the Chinese Government while studying here and are generally kept loyal to the Communist Party during their time in Australia by being surrounded by Beijing-approved Chinese-language media. However, most of the time the voices of Chinese students themselves are not part of the discussion.

What are Chinese students’ aspirations for their time in Australia? Do these accord with their actual experiences? Do Chinese students aim to immerse themselves in Australian life? What part do Chinese-language media play in their Australian experience?

Fran Martin joins James Laurenceson to discuss her Australian Research Council-funded project following more than 50 female students coming to Australian universities from China, from before their departure to after their graduation.

This study focuses specifically on female students for several reasons. First, according to China’s Ministry of Education, female students comprise 60 percent of the country’s outbound university students. Second, middle class, urban young women in China face the contradiction between having more freedom and opportunity than previous generations to pursue further studies and careers, while facing pressure to marry and start a family before they turn 30. It is therefore important to understand how their time studying in Australia shapes their directions and choices.

The majority of students make the distinction between patriotic love of country and love of the Chinese Government or Communist Party; they tend to be proud of their nation’s achievements and defensive of criticism towards China, but this should not be conflated with unquestioning nationalism. Students have the capacity for critical understanding and have a range of political views.

Before coming to Australia, students expressed their desire to immerse themselves in Australian life, through social networks and professional experience. However, while some students have achieved this, the majority have faced barriers including language proficiency, exclusion from certain work opportunities, and racism, which results in demoralisation.

Students’ media worlds are dominated by Chinese-language media, but not necessarily Chinese state media. While media consumed via WeChat is regulated by Chinese authorities, discussions are largely centred on domestic and local lifestyle and not political matters. This does not mean there are no concerns; students are often vulnerable to misinformation and sensationalism, as WeChat media is not subject to Australian standards and laws.

Universities have an ethical responsibility to provide greater support to international students, as they become increasingly important to the Australian higher education sector. This could include the introduction of peer mentoring programs and improved language preparation with discipline-specific English training. Companies could also consider amending employment conditions excluding international student applicants.

Theme music by Sam J Mitchell.

May 03 2018