The experiences of international and New Zealand women in New Zealand higher education

Higher education Women International students New Zealand
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This thesis reports on an ethnographic research project that explored the experiences and perspectives of a group of women in New Zealand higher education, including international and New Zealand students and partners of international students. The study had two aims. The first was to disrupt the inattention to gender and to students' partners and families in New Zealand international education research and policy. The second was to problematise Eurocentric assumptions of (predominantly Asian) international students' 'cultural difference', and of New Zealanders' homogenised sameness.The theoretical framework for the study was informed by a range of conceptual tools, including feminist, critical theory, post-structural, and postcolonial perspectives. In drawing on feminist perspectives, the study was driven by a concern with acknowledging the importance and value of women's lives, looking for women where they are absent from policy and analysis, and attending to the mechanisms through which some women's lives are rendered invisible in internationalised higher education. In considering these mechanisms and women's lives in relation to them the study also drew on post-structural notions of discourse, power, and agency. It explored how dominant discourses in internationalised higher education reveal and reproduce historically-grounded relations of power that are intentionally or unintentionally performed, subverted and/or resisted by women and those they encounter. Using Young's (1990, 2000) approach to critical theory, the study also considered alternative ways of constructing internationalised higher education that were suggested in women's accounts.As a critical feminist ethnography the study was shaped by my theoretical framework (above), critical literature on heterogeneous social groups, and feminist concerns with relationship, reciprocity and power in the research process. Fieldwork took place during 2005 and 2006 and involved two aspects: the establishment and maintenance of an intercultural group for women associated with a higher education institution, and 28 interviews with 20 women over two years. Interviewees were recruited through the group and included eight international students, nine New Zealand students and three women partners of international students.Study findings challenged the assumption that international and local students are distinct and oppositional groups. They also highlighted the importance of recognising the legitimate presence of international students' partners and accompanying family members at all levels in higher education. International and New Zealand women alike found the intercultural group a useful source of social and practical support and information, and a point of access to other sources of support and information. Women reflected on moving between many different kinds of living and learning contexts, highlighting the importance of: clear processes and pathways for accessing information and practical support when experiencing transition; teaching that is engaging, effective, and responsive; and opportunities to develop connections with other people both on and off campus. Rather than revealing clear patterns of difference or sameness across women, the study highlighted the importance of policy, research, teaching and support practices that are open and responsive to women's actual viewpoints and needs, and that neither re-entrench difference nor assume sameness.

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