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What 10 Chinese PhDs Think

VU International News and Reviews No. 109 March 26 2018

March 2018

In Dutch higher education media, some eyebrows were raised about the assumed uncomfortable position of Chinese PhD candidates in the Netherlands. The source was a Master’s thesis on the subject by a Chinese student in Leiden; a summary of the thesis was published in the Dutch Science Guide. The student-author paints are rather a glum picture of the situation of Chinese PhD students and their own perception of that situation: they would rather have gone somewhere else, don’t feel very much at home, feel not very well supported and face problems overcoming the cultural differences between China and the Netherlands. The authors blame this in part on the binary system for PhDs in the Netherlands, with some PhD candidates in senior research positions (with teaching duties) and others with research student status (without teaching).

But we must note a few comments on this study and to what extent its findings may be generalised. It is based on 10 qualitative interviews – against a total of almost 400 Chinese PhDs in the Netherlands. It does not compare the findings with the situation in other countries; it notes that Chinese students may well develop a different appreciation of their PhD track in the course of their 4 years, but apparently doesn´t show to which extent this actually happens.

Studies like this are `exploratory´. At best, they may lead to the conclusion that more valid studies are called for to see the indicative signals of the exploration can be proven to have real value.

So, academically speaking there is not so much reason for raised eyebrows, but rather for question marks. But in politics and publicity, maybe it makes less sense to speak academically.

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