Students from mainland China and critical thinking in postgraduate Business and Management degrees: teasing out tensions of culture, style and substance.
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This paper explores the discourse of critical thinking within Higher Education (HE) practice and evaluates the experiences and achievements of mainland Chinese students within that context. It sets out to discuss teaching and learning as it was experienced by a small group of students who came to the UK for postgraduate study. The paper explores underlying assumptions behind criticality within HE classrooms and discusses this aspect of pedagogy from a cultural perspective. Chinese students, facing an acute need to bridge different ways of knowing and expressing what they know, are often characterized as unable to work in a critical context. The research accounts document students’ responses to the academic and critical context inherent in their programmes of study and make an account of the learning challenges they faced. The key conclusions include: definitions of critical thinking are often unclear, and emerge from cultural knowledge traditions rather than universal measures of higher learning; Chinese students are often stereotyped as cognitively limited because of their difficulties with critical expression; classroom strategies do not explicitly facilitate development or assess critical thinking but focus on stylistic and locally-valid academic conventions; international students may ‘under-perform’ because of a lack of initiation into cultural practices rather than inability to engage with critical thinking.