This turned into a longer post than it was originally intended to be. There’s an extremely short TL;DR at the end with a summary table.
On sports day, I had a rather interesting conversation with a colleague. I tried explaining that our campuses are very different in NZ – we don’t have sports grounds. Students and teachers aren’t required to participate in extra-curricular activities. They don’t live on campus, and in fact the “campus” is more of a loose collection of teaching, research and administration buildings. She was quite understandably baffled.
“So, the students are expected to drive to lectures?” She asked. Well… They’re expected to get there somehow. Or not. Also unlike my university here, universities in NZ don’t take attendance. Your education is your own responsibility, as is housing and transport. Bus, walk, cable car… Be an adult. Show up, or don’t. And it should go without saying that you’re responsible for your own meals.
Some photos of my pretty campus in China:
My campus seems fairly typical of a Chinese campus from what I gather. It’s an enclosed, private space. There are monitored gates (minimal monitoring. Usually just a couple of people watching the comings and goings of pedestrians and opening it wider for cars), and all of the teaching, administration and living buildings are inside of them.
The transition to adulthood is different here. It’s compulsory for students to live at their university (4 students to a room). The university provides breakfast and lunch, and there’s a decent selection of dinner places just outside the campus. They must attend classes; I had to take attendance. At my university, I teach in classrooms not lecture halls. At the end of every class, a class monitor comes to me with a book for me to make a remark about the class performance and sign. Students who act up in class or don’t do homework could land themselves in punishment class. Yes, that’s right: punishment class. Usually, that means extra Tai Chi (which all of the students seem to do every day. I see them on my way to breakfast every morning). While here, the university acts like their foster parent. They even have a curfew (10pm).
Students also seem less focused than what I would expect of university students. In class they are often on their cell phones or muttering to each other. They were surprised when I told them at my NZ university I had attended classes in a room with 500 other students. In first year, there were so many students in the same papers that some lectures were streamed live to other lecture halls, meaning that only one classroom had the professor. One student asked how the teachers stopped students from talking. I gave them the honest answer: they didn’t have to. Students aren’t forced to go to class – if you don’t want to be there, you don’t go. And if you talk, another student will probably ask you to stop.
Another interesting difference between universities is the structure of the courses. In NZ, there are certain compulsory papers to take for your major/ minor, but you can choose to take a hodge-podge of unrelated papers if you wish. You can even change your major, and in some cases transfer to a different university. Not so in China. Some of my students directly said that they did not choose to be at that university or even in that major; for most students, your future employment is determined by your grades. Everyone is directed into a path which they seem most suited to. There’s little individual choice involved.
There are things I like about both styles of campus life. I liked that the food was provided on the Chinese campus, and that everything was in the same area. But if I were a student, I wouldn’t like living in a room with 3 other people. Independence is important to me, and it was great to go flatting while at my NZ university.
TL;DR: Students at university in China have more services provided and more structure than university students in NZ, at the cost of having fewer choices and less independence. Also, my Chinese campus was very nice and had lakes and trees.