Student Life

Counselling and Personal Development

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Confucian heritage and western culture in a tertiary environment

Many students from East and South East Asian countries have been profoundly influenced by Confucian philosophy and heritage where the emphasis is on collectivism and group identity which can influence their performance academically. This can be contrasted with the culture at Deakin where students are expected to become independent learners, and assert their individuality by questioning the teacher, analysing different types of information through reading widely, requesting help when necessary, developing reasoned arguments and opinions while participating in class discussions and coping with continuous assessment.

The following set of characteristics, even though generalisations and changing (because of China’s one–child policy, influence of capitalism and the cultural revolution), may help to explain the behaviour of students from this region.

Impact of institutional expectations on student from a Confucian heritage cultural background

Confucian cultural characteristics Deakin’s expectations Impact on students behaviour at Deakin
Maintenance of harmony Students expected to become independent learners - discuss and argue questions in class Students afraid to cause upset in class by arguing a point
Face: harmony is found in maintenance of face, one’s dignity, self-respect and prestige. It’s okay to make mistakes Asking too many questions, especially of the teacher, may result in loss of face for them and student.
Importance of the group (collectivist culture) Stand out from the group by asking questions. Emphasis on individualism. Standing out from the group by asking questions may result in others in the group thinking you are showing off.
Persistence More emphasis on innate ability than effort. Success is based on directed effort (skills, strategy and know how) rather than ability.
Thrift University occupies only one aspect of one’s life. Opportunity to try different things. Single-minded focus. Here for a purpose. Study time must not be wasted; be careful of time and money.
Ordering relationships, following a hierarchy. Self-directed research. Variety of opinions needed, not only teachers, which are just as valid. What the teachers/elders say must be followed.
Having a sense of shame. Take risks, make mistakes, that’s how learning takes place. Respect for risk-takers. Making mistakes in front of others will result in embarrassment for self and family.
Fillial piety Make your own decision and take the consequences. Parental expectations must be met. Parents will support you and your duty is to make them proud of you. Importance of extended family.
Respect for tradition, the teacher, elderly ancestors. Being original is important and valued. Copying is wrong. Come up with your own ideas and opinions. You should not change what was written by the authorities therefore it is right and correct to copy what was written.
‘Human heartedness’ (kindness, patience, courtesy) Teachers paid to teach only during class. Teachers should display these qualities and support students outside class.
Emphasis on education - will lead to upward social mobility and potentially confer much status and prestige upon the parent. Education for self-development and career. An individual’s choice. Failure will lead to great shame for self and the family.
Trust: of family and in-group Go see a counsellor if you have a problem. Talk to friends and family when in trouble. Shame to get outside help.
Preference for the tangible and concrete. Need for theoretical knowledge especially in high education. Want practical work experience in course.


(Table based on information from Kin & Contazzi, 1997, Biggs 1996, and Chinese Culture Connection 1987)

Taking it further

  • Chinese Culture Connection 1987 Chinese values and the search for culture-free dimensions of culture. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, vol.20, no2,pp143 - 164.
  • Jin, L & Cortazzi, M 1997 The culture the learner brings:a bridge or a barrier? In Byram M & Fleming M Language Learning in Intercultural Perspective. Cambridge Language Teaching Library, Cambridge University Press


Excerpt from a report titled Identifying and Providing Culturally Relevant Support Services to International Students by Wendy Paulusz, Division of Student Life 2004.

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14th May 2011