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You can easily feel like a nobody: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of the lived experiences of 12 Chinese post-graduate students in higher education in the United Kingdom



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Stoddart, Jonathan Mark 


Higher education in the UK has been transformed in diverse and far-reaching ways in recent decades, most notably through the internationalisation of the sector. Internationalisation has brought about many opportunities for states, institutions and individuals, but also raised concurrent challenges for all. Differences in approaches to knowledge and scholarship – cultures of learning ¬– have led international students, and post-graduate students from mainland China in particular, to be commonly conceptualised as deficient when they rub up against different practices in the UK.

This thesis explores the experiences of 12 mainland Chinese post-graduate students across three higher education institutions in the UK. Data was generated through in-depth, focussed interviews, with the analysis drawing on the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to generate a thematic, idiographic account of the participants’ lifeworlds. The interviews indicated that any satisfying outcomes of the participants’ sojourns were tempered by significant challenges, namely: establishing meaningful relationships with tutors and other students; feeling isolated, lonely and marginalised; struggling with emotional wellbeing; adjusting to new pedagogical practices and struggling with curricular content. In addition, transitioning to post-graduate study, and tense relationships between students from mainland China and those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, emerged as unexpected aspects of their lifeworlds.

Given the range of challenges experienced by this cohort, this thesis draws on the emancipatory stances of neo-Marxism and critical transformative pedagogy to trouble current discourses. It militates for a reframing of the ways in which Chinese post-graduate students are conceptualised in higher education in the UK, which necessitates greater recognition and appreciation of the pluralithic approaches to knowledge and scholarship which are present in university classrooms. As this is a professional doctorate, suggestions for adjusting classroom practices, curricular content and institutional approaches are made, and I call for a deeper understanding of cultures of learning in university settings, for the benefit of all.





Byers, Richard
Holliday, Carol


Internationalisation, Higher Education, Chinese students, Post-graduate, Acculturation, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, University


Doctor of Education (EdD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge