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Selling western dreams: Australian transnational education in Vietnam and the formation of students’ identities
thesisposted on 28.05.2020, 23:19 authored by Nguyen, Thi Nhai
Onshore international students in universities, are often ascribed a deficit identity. This is associated, in the literature, with stereotyping and discrimination in the host countries. However, alternative perspectives are emerging that challenge such views and focus instead on the central role of students’ agency in shaping their own educational identities. Although valuable, this latter body of research is limited because it generally does not address the identities of offshore international students; those who pursue an overseas programme in their home country. How agential are they? This study explores the manner in which international students’ identities are formed in the transnational education (TNE) market. It focuses specifically Australian courses and programs in Vietnam. It examines this transnational education market, the principles upon which it operates and the manner in which it seeks to shape students’ identities via processes of commodification and colonisation through the promotion of what I call Western dreams. It also shows how offshore international Vietnamese students engage this market, and how they respond to such process of commodification and colonisation. It identifies the mismatches between the ways offshore international students position themselves and how ATNE institutions position them. Two main research methods are employed; in-depth interview and semiotic analysis. The former are used to draw out students’ experiences of consuming ATNE products and the structures of feelings involved. The latter is employed to discover how Western dreams and ideologies are embedded in the ATNE promotional materials. In bringing these two methods together, I offer a picture of the ATNE market from both sides: production and consumption. My interviewees are undertaking their studies in transnational educational programs in Vietnam. Understanding these programs required me to identify the manner in which they intersect with various economic, cultural, political dimensions of globalisation and colonialism. I show that these intersections help to shape students’ identities by offering a new set of alluring attributes while also putting traditional Vietnamese identities under pressure to change. Specifically I illustrate how these global education market forces and their associated ideologies morph with local forces (culture, traditions and the Vietnamese nation-state) to displace students’ identities and evoke in them highly contradictory feelings. They are excited and disappointed, they feel exploited but at the same time they feel creative and fulfilled. Ultimately, their education leaves them feeling very ambivalent. My research contributes to the body of knowledge known as ‘international education studies’. It offers insights into the identity formation of offshore international students in Vietnam and confirms that they are strong self-forming agents. While challenging the consumer and production fetishism of the transnational education market, it also indicates that students are, what I call, agonised consumers who identify the exploitation they are subject to in this market while also experiencing some exhilaration. This study offers a fresh approach to interpreting offshore international student identities, thereby enriching understandings of not only of student identities but also of the practices of the ATNE institutions.