Internationalization Strategies in Chinese Higher Education Institutions: Examining a Selection of Award-Winning Four-Year Universities

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

D. Eric Archer, Ph.D., CCLS

Second Advisor

Donna Talbot, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ying Zeng, Ph.D.


China, higher education, internationalization, strategies, the national teaching achievement award


China is building the fastest growing higher education system, in quality as well as in quantity, in the world and emphasizes internationalization in education policy as a guide to building its own capacity and developing native talent. With regained self-confidence and geopolitical ambition, China is also emerging as a new potential higher education leader along its New Silk Road. The purpose of this study was to explore internationalization strategies employed at select, award-winning Chinese four-year universities, specifically those awarded the National Teaching Achievement Award, the highest national award in teaching and education in the country, for their internationalization efforts.

This study utilized historical document analysis (McCulloch & Richardson, 2000) through a review of application packets, institutional websites and archives, journal articles, and government documents relevant to a total of 157 four-year institutions receiving the National Teaching Achievement Award for their internationalization strategies since 1989. This longitudinal approach to reviewing documents was designed to develop rich data for analyzing change dynamics and effects of internationalization strategies. This study was conducted in three stages, and presented as three distinct manuscripts: (a) systematic review of prior research into the internationalization strategies of Chinese universities through analysis and synthesis of existing journal articles published in English and Chinese prior to 2021; (b) longitudinal document analysis relevant to a total of 157 award-winning institutions on eight occasions of the award since 1989, with the aim of developing rich data to analyze change dynamics and effects of internationalization strategies at these universities; and (c) longitudinal document analysis relevant to the 157 award-winning institutions, so as to develop rich data and analyze China‘s patterns of collaboration with different countries and international organizations.

The findings of this study suggested that China has taken a pragmatic and eclectic approach toward internationalization with the aim of capacity building. The winners were engaged in an iterative process of experiments, discoveries, and adjustment to ensure that various Western models were reinterpreted to suit national and local contexts. With enhanced capacity and geopolitical ambition, China is emerging as a new potential higher education leader along the New Silk Road. Although it is too early to assess China‘s (potential) role as a global leader, Chinese universities‘ outreach efforts seem to reflect what they have learned from Western models and what they believe have worked in their own development.

In many ways, Chinese higher education, taken as a whole, is still a learner and follower in the global academic system. On the other hand, one cannot speculate about China‘s emerging role as a potential leader in global higher education. Where aspiring institutions can perhaps draw a lesson from the award-winners is in their openness to experiment and change, in their rejection of xenophobia and ethnocentrism, in their pragmatic and eclectic learning from the world, and in their conviction that the long-term benefits of academic collaboration outweigh risks and challenges.

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