Institutional Social Capital and Chinese International Branch Campuses: A Case Study from Students’ Perspectives

Yuyang Kang

Yuyang Kang, Lingnan University

Kang, Y. (2019). Institutional Social Capital and Chinese International Branch Campus: A Case Study from Students’ Perspectives. In Contesting Globalization and Internationalization of Higher Education (pp. 163-178). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Article Summary

In the special context of International Branch Campuses (IBCs) in China, which operate somewhat midway between Chinese and Western cultures, this chapter looks specifically at the role of institutional social capital and how it influences Chinese students’ university experiences, focusing in particular on what and how social capital is transmitted and accumulated by students within the IBC. Empirical data was gathered through in-depth interviews with current students, graduates and faculty members of one IBC in China (IBC-A, hereafter). This chapter argues that although certain aspects of institutional social capital may be curtailed, students still have many chances to cultivate their social capital in an IBC context. However, the most commonly addressed function of institutional social capital (that is, its role in students’ job-hunting) was not observed in this research.

Based upon findings generated from the interviews with students, this research finds that the assumption that IBCs can provide better institutional social capital is part of the reason why some Chinese students choose to study at an IBC. Some students believe that networking opportunities at IBC-A are better than other institutions in China, with gaokao (Chinese National College Entrance Examination) scores and high tuition fee as two compulsory requirements for entry. The university enrolls Chinese Mainland students only through the channel of the Ministry of Education (MoE), which means gaokao is the prerequisite. In 2014, the average gaokao score of IBC-A newly enrolled students majoring in science was 650, which was 18 points higher than that of Ningbo University and 49 points lower than the average of Zhejiang University. Ningbo University is neither a 985 nor 211 project university while Zhenjiang University is one of the top 10 higher education institutions in China. Although IBC-A usually avoids being compared with other universities in China’s public higher education system, the gaokao score indicates it is viewed as a good but not top university by Chinese students and their parents. Moreover, most of the students in IBC-A come from relatively well-off family. In 2012, IBC-A raised its annual tuition fee for undergraduate students from 60,000 Yuan to 80,000 Yuan, which was 15 to 20 times higher than the fees charged by a typical Chinese public university. According to the Statistical Yearbook of China, the per capita annual income of Chinese urban households was 24,564.7 Yuan in 2012 (National Bureau of Statistics, 2015). Therefore, it is reasonable to state only individuals from relatively rich families can afford the tuition at IBC-A.

Regarding cultivation of institutional social capital, this research finds that it might be difficult for IBC-A students to maintain long-term contact with faculty members. Both students and staff who were interviewed mentioned that faculty members tend to stay only for a few years at IBC-A. In addition to commonly known disadvantages of working in China such as blocked internet access, the interviews with faculty members reveal that IBC-A has two systems of faculty recruitment. The home University A directly recruits some of the faculty from the UK and those recruited are usually registered at both University A and IBC-A. The Chinese campus also recruits faculty members on a global scale on its own. Faculty members recruited via the latter channel are only signed as IBC-A faculty instead of University A. The differentiation or inequality in administration and management increase the tension within faculties and undermines people’s willingness to stay. As IBC-A is still running under deficit, it is also difficult for faculty members to get promoted. After two or three years at IBC-A, many faculty members find it difficult to be promoted and decide to move to other institutions for the development of their careers.  After a faculty member leaves for other institutions, some of the students find it difficult to keep in contact, as the teachers would change their contact information too. It also sets obstacles for those who need to find references for their further studies, which is very common among IBC-A students.

Although some institutional social capital might be curtailed by faculty turnover, students still have many chances to cultivate their social capital in an IBC context. Because of differences in higher education systems, IBC-A students need to take fewer courses than their peers in Chinese universities and students at the UK-style university are expected to be more independent in learning. Although the students interviewed tend to hold varied attitudes toward the reduced course hours, it is noticeable that fewer course hours allow IBC-A students to actively engage in extra-curricular activities and increase their sense of being members of the ‘corps.’ This paper reveals that fewer course hours together with smaller classes and students’ higher intention to build networks with each other are three factors that contribute to lasting social connections among IBC-A students and alumni.

Studies of social capital, especially institutional social capital, are unequivocal about how institutional social capital helps students to find their first jobs after graduation. However, in this study, there is no strong evidence indicating correlation between institutional social capital and IBC-A students’ first jobs. The main reason is that most of the graduates go on to postgraduate study outside of China instead of finding a local job. Interviews with IBC-A students reveals that most of them believe there are fundamental differences between IBC-A and other Chinese universities and a mismatch between demands of local job market and the IBC graduates. Some students found it difficult to adapt to the local job market and the massification of higher education in China makes it increasingly difficult to secure a good job with a bachelor’s degree only. According to the participants, only a few students planned to go directly to work after their four-years’ study, and this group of students mainly intended to take jobs in foreign companies or jobs that their families found for them.

This paper has examined the role of institutional social capital in Chinese IBC students’ university experiences. It contributes to current institutional social capital literature by showing its special role in recruitment of Chinese students. Based upon findings generated from the interviews with students, this research finds that the assumption that IBCs can provide better institutional social capital is part of the reason why some Chinese students choose to study at an IBC. Because of historical and cultural circumstances, young Chinese individuals being educated in a Western-style university still attach special importance to being a member of certain institutions. It might be difficult for IBC-A students to maintain long-term contact with faculty members who tend to move to other institutions, which curtails accumulation of certain institutional social capital. However, fewer course hours together with smaller classes and students’ higher intention to build networks with each other are three factors that contribute to lasting social connections among IBC-A students and alumni. Despite these positive factors indicating the strong potential for developing institutional social capital, the job-finding effect of institutional social capital was not obvious in this research because a large portion of the graduates did not go to work directly after their graduation.

 

Author Biography

Yuyang Kang is PhD candidate in Sociology and Social Policy at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. This paper is developed from her thesis submitted to King’s College London. Her research interests are in the subfield of internationalization of higher education and the role of HEIs in local innovation development. Her current projects focus on graduate entrepreneurs in the Great Bay Area of China. Her PhD is funded by Hong Kong PhD Fellowship and she is also the awardee of Sino-British Fellowship Trust Fund and Fung Scholarship.

 

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