Decrypting the matrix of Chinese-Australian university networking: The tip of the iceberg of the Transnational Higher Education

Year: 2019

Author: Pan, Pengfei, Mu, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The last decade has seen the escalating scope and scale of higher education providers moving across national borders to offer academic programs and qualifications. Concomitant with this trend is China’s vigorous demand for, and investment in, tertiary education and its attendant developments of Transnational Higher Education (TNHE). Australian universities, as global pioneers in offshore delivery, are strategic players in the TNHE game with China. This game is often construed beneficial for knowledge transfer, capacity building, and sometimes revenue generation, demonstrating human capital orientation and academic capitalism.

In sociological terms, however, the portrait of TNHE would remain incomplete without going beyond economism to which social practice is often reduced through human capital and academic capitalism. In this paper, we draw on Bourdieu and delve into the “position-taking” of Chinese and Australian universities within the TNHE “network” where symbolic struggles unfold and unequal power relations are (re)produced. Since the 2000s, the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) has approved nearly two hundred Chinese-Australian TNHE arrangements of various forms. Yet little empirical evidence is available in terms of the nature and dynamics of these engagements. To fill the gap, our study works with the MOE-approved Chinese-Australian TNHE operations and explores the networking of partner universities through recourse to Bourdieu’s relational sociology and Social Network Analysis.

The dataset includes 33 Australian universities and 93 Chinese universities. Their TNHE partnerships are examined in relation to their research income, quantity of publication, overall university ranking and status, and location. The Software UCINET 6.680 was used to create the network diagram and analyse the network data. QAP regression indicates that the degree of networking is related to the degree of match between the two partner universities in terms of their quantity of publication (p < .002), university status (p < .001), and university ranking (p < .043). We theorise that the officialised “social space” of Chinese-Australian TNHE is configured by the tangible networks between universities and the symbolic positioning strategies hidden behind the networks.

To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first in its kind that draws on large-scale data to decrypt the matrix of universities’ networking in TNHE. Yet the MOE-approved Chinese-Australian TNHE operations are only the tip of the iceberg of the global TNHE. More thorough investigation is needed in this regard. The theoretical contribution of this study is manifested in its intention to conflate network theory and Bourdieu’s field theory.