Implementing the One-Third Curriculum Policy in Transnational Higher Education Programs in China: A Multiple Case Study of Chinese Host Universities

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Eisenchlas, Susana
Trevaskes, Susan
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This multiple case study is a strategic response to the increasing literature on transnational higher education (TNHE) programs in host countries such as China. The study focuses on one particular aspect of TNHE in China: implementing the One-Third Curriculum Policy introduced by China’s Ministry of Education (MoE). According to this policy, TNHE programs in China are required to import at least one third of the courses or curricular elements from foreign partner universities. Despite the MoE’s good intentions, it is acknowledged that the policy is difficult to implement in local Chinese universities. However, evidence to date in the literature regarding this difficulty seems to be anecdotal, with little empirical data available to systematically explain why and how this curriculum policy implementation has been ineffective. To investigate this problem, this thesis aims to ascertain multi-level factors impeding the effective implementation of the One-Third Curriculum Policy in TNHE programs hosted at local Chinese universities. In doing so, the study provides insights into the development of critical elements or frameworks required to overcome the impediments and bridge the gap between policy ideals and local practices. The overarching research question is: What key elements or frameworks need to be in place in TNHE programs in China to overcome the barriers to the effective implementation of the One-Third Curriculum Policy at local Chinese universities? To gain rich and in-depth data, I used a triangulation of methods including document analysis, student questionnaires, and semi-structured interviews with academic and administrative staff. To guide data collection and analysis, I developed a crossdisciplinary analytical framework based on the insights from curriculum theories, implementation studies, and organisational learning theories. With purposeful and snowball sampling strategies, four local Chinese universities were identified as the case study sites, where 205 students and 14 staff from five undergraduate TNHE programs were recruited as participants and key informants. Qualitative content analysis of the data revealed disparate practices of TNHE curriculum policy implementation in local contexts. None of the Four One-Third Rules specified in the One-Third Curriculum Policy was fully implemented at the four case study universities. In particular, the fourth rule (i.e., foreign faculty are required to undertake at least one third of the total teaching hours in the program) appeared to be the most difficult requirement to fulfil. A total of 12 factors at individual, organisational and societalenvironmental levels emerged as the most prominent barriers to the effective implementation of the TNHE curriculum policy at local Chinese universities. In response to the findings, and to conclude the study, a three-dimensional framework of key elements was accordingly developed in the hope of assisting local Chinese universities in overcoming these impediments and improving the overall quality of TNHE programs in China. Unveiling a dynamic interplay of policy, people and contexts in TNHE in China, the findings, in particular, the three-dimensional framework of key elements developed in the study, are arguably of empirical and practical value to those involved or interested in the fields of internationalisation of higher education and transnational higher education.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Hum, Lang & Soc Sc
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Higher education
Chinese universities
Curriculum policy
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