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Returnee faculty responses to internationalizing “academic ecology” for creating world-class universities in China’ elite universities

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Abstract

The academic ecology of China’s elite universities has been deeply shaped by internationalization through the efforts of returnee faculty members. This study explores how to internationalize the Chinese academic ecology and create world-class universities by examining the experiences and perceptions of returnee faculty members in China’s elite universities. Using a qualitative method, 18 returnees from three top universities were interviewed to present their in-depth insights into the dynamics of the academic ecosystem in China. The study findings highlight that bringing international academic peer review and tenure track mechanisms into China’s current higher education system is necessary to meet the international academic standard pursued by world-class universities. Encouraging publications in English works to benefit the internationalization of China’s academic ecology. Returnee faculty members underwent a re-adaptation socialization process in Chinese local academic discourse and used self-mockery to describe themselves as “abandoned orphans” to express their marginalized status in their local academic networks and communities. The returnees found that their academic identities needed to match the academic context of Chinese universities, especially in social science. The discussions also highlighted the current tensions in the drive to internationalize China’s elite universities and the need to strengthen indigenous elements, international faculty practices, and local requirements, in addition to the career interests of returnees and local peers. These tensions contribute to the international awareness, engagement, and advances in the focus on Chinese characteristics to serve local and national agendas.

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Acknowledgments

Jian Li and Eryong Xue serve as the co-first authorship. We thank the staff of this project for their unending contributions to this work and the teachers and administrators who made this research possible.

Funding

The study received funding from Beijing Education Science Planning (Key project) Research on Internationalization Development Strategy and Evaluation Index System of Capital Universities under the Background of “Double First-Class” (No. AAAA19009).

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Correspondence to Jian Li.

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Li, J., Xue, E. Returnee faculty responses to internationalizing “academic ecology” for creating world-class universities in China’ elite universities. High Educ 81, 1063–1078 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00599-y

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