This study explores the social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of a U.S.-based transnational education (TNE) program in China. TNE refers to education programs provided by an institution located in another country, and this study focused on higher (tertiary) education.
Six questions provided the focus for this study: (1) What are the organizational dynamics of the TNE program? (2) How do social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions influence program operation? (3) How do Chinese government policies influence program operation and quality? (4) Does the program reflect standards outlined by professional associations that monitor TNE program quality? (5) What satisfactions and dissatisfactions do TNE students report? (6) What satisfactions and dissatisfactions do TNE instructors report?
In the U.S., “Northeast College” a private, four-year institution initiated the TNE program, partnering with five Chinese universities. In China, the Director of Northeast China Programs, International (NCPI)—a private, for-profit company—administered the program.
Data were gathered at two of the five universities while the researcher was an NCPI-hired instructor during 2007–2008. Data consisted of observational field notes, TNE program documents, correspondence with NCPI staff, and semi-structured interviews with students and instructors.
Four key findings emerged from this case study: (1) Chinese government policies appear to foster “academic capitalism” and to encourage “buying” higher educations programs from developed countries; in turn, institutions such as Northeast College appear willing to “sell” their educational program; (2) the TNE program lacks transparency and accountability measures that characterize the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities; (3) the primary goal for this TNE program is profit ($10 million gross in 2008),—at best, student learning is a secondary goal; and (4) the Director of NCPI relied on the Chinese cultural concepts of guanxi (a complex network of interpersonal connections, in which favors or service for others are reciprocated) to establish the program and “face” (sense of worth and perceived status) to market the program to students and their parents.
The study concludes with nine policy recommendations to diminish the negative consequences of buying, selling, and trading higher education programs in a global market.