File(s) under permanent embargo

Reason: Restricted by author. A copy can be supplied under Section 51(2) of the Australian Copyright Act 1968 by submitting a document delivery request through your library or by emailing

International (Chinese) students as ‘consumers’ in English language centre direct entry pathway programs in Australia: a case study

posted on 26.02.2017, 23:14 authored by Sinclair, Alice
Researchers concerned about the commercialisation of education suggest that it has reconceptualised education identities and education. It is argued that seeing education in profit-making frameworks has introduced the commodification of practice, the valuing of education for its social and economic capital and the erosion of academic standards. Central to debates on the commercialisation of education is the conceptualisation of the student as a ‘customer’. Students are believed to have adopted a consumer orientation, which leads them to understand education as a product to be purchased and consumed, thereby undermining pedagogy and pedagogical relationships. While the student as customer may be the home student in countries such as the UK, in Australia, the setting for this study, the fee-paying student-customer equates to the international ‘Asian’ student who has come to signify the ills of commercialisation by being tied to concerns about English language proficiency. It is therefore the international ‘Asian’ student who is the focus of this study. This thesis responds to calls for empirical research to look into the influence of positioning students as customers and consumers on teaching and learning. My study addresses the phenomenon of the problematisation of the ‘customer’ identity in the setting of Australian university English language Direct Entry Programs (DEPs). A qualitative case study was undertaken to investigate how representations of international student identities might be linked to understandings of the ‘student as consumer’. A discourse analysis approach was used to analyse data collected from documents, a group discussion and individual interviews. A total of six international students and three pathway teachers participated in the study. The analysis investigated understandings and reflections of the student as customer/consumer from the gaze of marketing and recruitment, teaching and learning management and the classroom. The title of this thesis reflects that the student participants were all Chinese, which is the predominant nationality in DEPs. However, the use of brackets in the title reflects that it is international students and not specifically Chinese students that are the focus of this study. The methodology of my research has allowed for the generation of thick description, which has led to findings that uncover nuances in the conceptualisation of students as ‘customer’ that previous studies on the consumer orientation of students have not uncovered. My research shows that there is variation in the Discourses of the international student as ‘customer’ and how this variation relates to alignment and resistance to understandings of the student identity and imposition of an economic subjectivity. While I found indicators of students adopting a consumer stance, I also found the same students value scholarship. My study also found that entitlement has been sutured onto Chinese student deficit, to position international Chinese students as problem learners, and the influence of this suturing was found in student and teacher interpretations of pedagogical behaviours and attitudes.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Susan Webb

Additional supervisor 1

Le Ha Phan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education