PolyU research reveals that short-term study-in-China programmes promote local university students’ intercultural competence and understanding of Mainland China

Since the reunification of Hong Kong with China, economic and social ties between Hong Kong and the Mainland have become more frequent. Amid the rapid economic growth of our country, more employment and business opportunities are created for young people in Hong Kong. To enhance their understanding of and identification with the Nation, local academic institutions have been organising various exchange programmes between China and Hong Kong. A recent Public Policy Research Project conducted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) revealed that short-term study-in-China programmes enhanced the intercultural competence of local Hong Kong university students. The programmes also positively influenced their perception and attitude towards Mainland China, as well as their identification with the Nation. The findings strongly suggest the importance of further promoting short-term learning opportunities in Mainland China for Hong Kong’s younger generation.

The research project was led by PolyU scholars Dr Lu YU, Associate Professor at the Department of Applied Social Sciences; and Professor Daniel T. L. SHEK, Interim Vice-President (Research and Innovation), Associate Vice President (Undergraduate Programme), Chair Professor of Applied Social Sciences and Li and Fung Professor in Service Leadership Education. The study also had two co-investigators: Dr Shengquan YE of City University of Hong Kong and Dr Mingyue GU of Education University of Hong Kong. Based on a pre- and post-test mixed method design, the study investigated the impact of three major types of short-term study-in-China programmes, including cultural tour programmes, summer term programmes, and service learning programmes, on Hong Kong local university students’ development. A total of 380 local students from eight universities in Hong Kong who are in years one to four of their studies and have participated in various short-term study-in-China programmes in the academic year of 2018/19, took part in the survey before and after joining the programmes. Among this batch of students, over 60% have never lived in the Mainland. The self-reported questionnaire measured students’ intercultural competence, perceptions and attitudes about Mainland China and its people; students’ identification with the Nation; and finally their national identity. Furthermore, individual interviews were conducted with 42 students and 16 programme staff to gain an in-depth understanding of their experiences and opinions about the programmes.

Based on the major findings of the study, the research team concluded that despite the relatively short duration of 1-8 weeks staying in Mainland China, the intercultural competence of the participating students increased and they reported more positive attitudes and views toward Mainland China and Chinese people, along with increased identification with the Nation after completing the programmes. Moreover, students with strong internal motivations, proactive learning attitudes, and high openness to new experiences were found to benefit the most from the learning experiences. In addition, having supportive peers, responsible and competent teachers, and high-quality programmes facilitated students’ effective learning.

Professor Daniel SHEK, the leader of the research, said, “The Government has always been supportive of Mainland study programmes that enable young people to gain a better understanding of our country’s development, to learn and broaden their cultural horizons and enhance their sense of belonging. Over the years, PolyU has organised a wide range of Mainland learning programmes with nearly 1,000 students participating each year. However, no systematic evaluation of the effectiveness and impact of the programmes has been conducted in the past, and this study provides an excellent opportunity for us to conduct an in-depth review and make recommendations on policies to enhance the depth and breadth of future programmes.”

Dr Lu YU, who co-led the research with Professor SHEK, added, “It is hoped that the survey will affirm the positive impact of study-in-China programmes on participating students, and the way in which they help enhance young people’s national identity, resulting in a win-win situation for both the Nation and the participants.” She hopes that the study will provide more inspiration for all parties to improve the content and format of short-term study-in-China programmes.

In response to the findings of the study, the research team has made a number of policy recommendations, including integrating relevant programmes into the undergraduate curriculum, allocating extra resources to support the programmes, establishing a resource-sharing platform and providing training for programme leaders, with a view to enhancing the quality and quantity of the programmes in a comprehensive way.

Major Findings of the Study

  1. Students reported higher levels of intercultural competence in terms of both intercultural effectiveness and intercultural communication awareness after completion of the programmes (including cultural exchange, summer school and service learning programmes). The impact was significant for all three types of programme.
  2. Participants showed more positive perceptions about Mainland China and more positive attitudes toward its people after joining the programmes. Both summer term and service learning programmes had a significant and positive impact on students’ development in this area.
  3. The programmes promoted students’ identification with the identity of a Chinese citizen, the perceived importance of the identity of a Chinese citizen and as a member of the Chinese race, as well as the perceived strengths of all four types of identities (as a Hong Kong citizen, a Chinese citizen, a citizen of the PRC, and a member of the Chinese race).
  4. More improvement in intercultural communication awareness was observed in students with prior experiences in joining such programmes and those with higher expectations about the programmes enhancing this developmental outcome.
  5. A higher parental educational level was associated with more positive changes of students’ perceptions about Mainland China, less increase in their self-identification as a Hong Kong citizen, and in their perceived strength and importance of this identity.
  6. Students with no prior experiences in any short-term study-in-China programmes showed more positive changes in their identity as a citizen of the PRC, and their perceived strength and importance of this identity than those who had joined such programmes before.
  7. At the personal level, strong internal motivation, positive and proactive attitudes toward the programmes, and openness to new experiences were identified as critical factors contributing to students’ learning gains from the programmes.
  8. At the programme level, highly motivational peers, responsible and knowledgeable teachers, and high programme quality (with clear objectives, carefully-designed activities and appropriate schedules) were perceived as facilitators to students’ effective learning gains.

Policy recommendations proposed by the research team:

  • Further promote short-term study-in-China programmes by allocating extra resources, setting up specific funds, strengthening collaboration with Mainland China and integrating relevant programmes into the undergraduate curriculum. Instead of a mandatory requirement, students should be strongly encouraged to join in a voluntary manner.
  • Promote the integration of short-term study-in-China experiences into undergraduate studies and strengthen the service learning element in the undergraduate curriculum.
  • Identify and introduce high-quality programmes as examples of best practices and foster information exchange among universities through a common platform.
  • Enhance students’ motivation through orientation workshops, student leader schemes and team-building activities.
  • Build up the capacity of programme leaders through systematic training and evaluation.
  • Build up positive public perceptions of study-in-China programme experience by disseminating publicity materials and creating opportunities for participants to share their experiences to the public.
  • Utilise the positive influence of the media to promote Chinese culture to the general public and enhance their direct exposure to Mainland society through service/voluntary opportunities.
  • Support long-term research projects to evaluate and document the long-term impact of study-in-China programme experiences.

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