Building connections and collaborations: Data-driven approach in global programing



  • Kaishan Kong, PhD, Associate Professor | University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, United States
  • Xiaoling Deng, Director, International Exchange Programs, International Office | Suzhou City University, PRC
  • Chanjuan Chen, Deputy Director, Office of International Exchange and Cooperation (Office of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan Affairs/School of International Education and Culture) | Lingnan Normal University, PRC

According to the statistics from the China Association for International Education, the number of international students enrolled in universities in China has steadily increased from 2003 (77,715) to 2018 (492,185). As Zhao (2011) argued, China has “grown from an insignificant player to a major destination.” Among the international students, over half of the students are from other Asian countries. Take 2018 for example: the Ministry of Education of China published that among the 492,185 international students, those from Asian countries made up 59.95%. While China’s economic development and global influence have stimulated growing interest among international students, how to create a more inclusive system and attract more diverse students is one of the priorities for international professionals in higher education within China.

The three authors have had the privilege of working with international students in various capacities. Kong is a language and culture professor in the US where she works closely with international students and is dedicated to international educational exchange. Deng and Chen are seasoned professionals in two regional colleges in China, directly working with student recruitment, exchange programs, and global programming. We formed a community of practice to examine challenges in international education, especially for small teaching-oriented institutions, and explore practical strategies to propel inclusive international education within China. In particular, we discussed the following questions:

  1. What are some fundamental disadvantages and challenges faced by teaching-oriented colleges in China regarding global programming?
  2. What are some potential practices to enhance accessibility and inclusivity in global programming?

Global Programming and its Challenges A closer look at the increased enrollment of international students in China reveals that larger cities and larger universities are much more popular than smaller ones, due to their international reputations and the availability of ample scholarships. Statistics showed that in 2018, Beijing attracted 80,786 international students and Shanghai came second with 61,400 students, while many other provinces with less than 10,000 students. These statistics expose the disadvantages of smaller cities and institutions, which resonates with both authors’ (Deng, Chen) first-hand experiences since they work in two separate, small-sized teaching-oriented colleges. Although their colleges offer a quality education, they are competing with over 160 other universities within their province to gain resources for global programming, many of which are worldwide reputable research-oriented institutions with tremendous financial support.

The increasing attention to international rankings pushes higher education institutions to think creatively to enhance their global competitiveness (Hammond, 2016; Marginson & van der Wende, 2007). In this process, small-sized teaching-oriented colleges face three major challenges, including (1) inadequate collaboration among various stakeholders (faculty, department, community) to promote international education, (2) lacking diverse course offerings to connect with students’ career planning, and (3) insufficient support to create impactful and inclusive experiences for international students. Depending on the international office team alone to tackle these challenges is neither realistic nor sustainable. It requires orchestrated efforts from faculty and local communities (Kim, Song, Liu, Liu, & Grimm, 2017). Kim et al. discovered that some faculty may perceive building global education in broader global dimensions without making relevance to their own contexts, and some faculty acknowledged growing gaps between administration and faculty.

Creating a Connection and Collaboration-based Model

One popular instrument in China to assess universities is called the University 360-degree Data Monitoring Framework, including 10 categories and over 40-dimension breakdowns. Global Competitiveness consists of three sub-categories and 10 dimensions (Figure 1).

This data framework provides a holistic view of global competitiveness and includes some quintessential components. While larger research-oriented institutes may be stronger in publications, smaller teaching-oriented colleges may consider what areas would be realistic to improve and thus establish achievable goals to make their global programs more inclusive and inviting to international students. We suggest a model (Figure 2) that catalyzes collaborations and connections to offer a more inclusive and impactful learning experience for international students where they can access various local resources.

Figure 1. Indicators of Global Competitiveness in the University 360-degree Data Monitoring Framework. Source: Information retrieved from

Figure 2. A Connection and Collaboration-based Model

Firstly, small colleges could create a wide range of academic offerings and highlight distinctive disciplines. Ding’s (2016) study revealed that international students’ interests go beyond Chinese language classes. If teaching-oriented colleges could examine their own disciplinary strengths and offer more diverse courses, especially in connection with local cultures and students’ different majors, they could distinguish themselves in global programming. For instance, the School of Food Engineering and Sciences in the third author’s university has established a successful course on food appreciation that explores the intersectionality of culture, language, cuisines, and food engineering. This course exemplifies collaboration between international administrators and faculty to reimagine education and utilize the school’s unique disciplinary advantage to create a niche program to cater to the interests of students from various academic backgrounds.

Secondly, small colleges could integrate career readiness in curriculum design so international students can expand their learning and accessibility to local resources. Since many international students choose to study in China because of its global economic power, colleges can consider offering courses related to their career skills and internship opportunities in local enterprises. For instance, a medical program in Jiangsu province offers bilingual courses that enhance international students’ language and subject knowledge, followed by a practicum component allowing these international students to work along with medical staff in local hospitals. Such courses connect students and local entities, not only enabling international students to apply their knowledge and skills in real life but also benefiting local employers with a new workforce.

Thirdly, small colleges can enhance academic services and support for international students. Engaging students with local communities helps to break bubbles and create truly inclusive learning. Research shows that university support and peer support play a significant role in international students’ experience (Hussain & Shen, 2019). Such support should be more than airport pick-ups and orientations by including effective mechanisms to support their experience. One effective practice shared by the second author is creating a sustainable Host Buddy program that connects students with local families, especially those with multiple generations, to have weekly meetings. International students are invited to various events from ordinary family gatherings to cultural celebrations. Having the chance to interact with various generations will be an exceptional chance for international students to experience authentic cultures.

Lastly, foster global collaborations—one step at a time! It takes tremendous efforts to launch large-scale global collaborations, but institutions can collaborate on smaller projects to gain momentum (Kong, 2023). One example is a global virtual exchange between the first two authors, where they connected faculty and students from their institutions to conduct a 10-week project to explore cultural topics. Projects like virtual exchange are an extraordinary example of involving faculty in global education so they can both adopt new pedagogy in teaching and conduct research from such projects.

This model illuminates the importance of connections and collaborations. It connects international students with local communities, connects study abroad with employability, and connects faculty with other aspiring colleagues beyond national boundaries. It promotes collaborations between colleges and local enterprises, between students and future employers, and, more importantly, between faculty and international teams on campus. By offering more thoughtful curriculum design, unique courses, and inclusive services, smaller colleges can improve their global competitiveness and become a niche market in international education.


Ding, X. (2016). Exploring the experiences of international students in China. Journal of Studies in international Education, 20(4), 319-338 Statistics of students studying in China. China Association for International Education.

Statistics of students studying in China in 2018. Ministry of Education of People’s Republic of China. (2019, April 12).

Hammond, C. D. (2016). Internationalization, nationalism, and global competitiveness: A comparison of approaches to higher education in China and Japan. Asia Pacific Education Review, 17, 555-566.

Hussain, M., & Shen, H. (2019). A study on academic adaptation of international students in China. Higher Education Studies, 9(4), 80-91.

Kim, D., Song, Q., Liu, J., Liu, Q., & Grimm, A. (2018). Building world class universities in China: Exploring faculty’s perceptions, interpretations of and struggles with global forces in higher education. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 48(1), 92-109.

Kong, K. (2023). Intercultural talk: Fostering intercultural citizenship in a Chinese program. In Kong, K. & Spenader, A. (Eds.), Intercultural Citizenship in language education: Teaching and learning through social action (pp. 90-119). Multilingual Matters.

Marginson, S., & van der Wende, M. (2007). To rank or to be ranked: The impact of global rankings in higher education. Journal of Studies in Higher Education, 11, 306-329.

Zhao, L. J. (2011, September 22). China’s higher education as soft power? (EAI Background Brief No. 659). National University of Singapore.

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