Riding over the National and Global Disequilibria: International Learning and Academic Career Development of Chinese Ph.D. Returnees

Jin JIANG*, Ka Ho MOK, Wenqin SHEN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


In response to the growing pressure of globalization and intensified competition for global talent, the Chinese government has proactively invested in human capital by sending students abroad to pursue higher degrees through national scholarship programs. This article sets out against the context of raising concerns and even questions the value of the globalization and internationalization of higher education on graduate employment and professional development. It critically examines how the overseas doctoral study could affect the graduate employment of Ph.D. returnees in the academic job market. Drawing on a national survey on government-funded Chinese Ph.D. returnees, this article finds no significant “pure prestige” effect of returnees’ doctoral university independent of individual merits. Instead, pre-employment academic productivity plays an important role in determining Ph.D. returnees’ job placement in a top university in China. The present article offers a sociological perspective on how the Chinese government rides on the rising nationalism and the call for globalization through grooming Chinese students to become global talents before bringing them back for enhancing the country’s global competitiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-554
Number of pages24
JournalHigher Education Policy
Early online date8 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

The present article is part of a larger research project funded by the ESRC in the UK. Professor Ka Ho Mok, the second author of this article, is an international research team leader of the Centre for Global Higher Education based at the University of Oxford and University College London, UK, leading a research project examining how Asian students graduating from the UK universities find their jobs and career development. The authors thank the Peking University research team (Prof. Chen Hongjie as Principal Investigator) for sharing the data presented in the article. The collaboration among UCL, Lingnan University, and Peking University have enabled the research team to conduct a comparative study of Chinese and other Asian students’ job search and career development after graduation from universities in the UK/overseas.


  • Ph.D. returnees
  • academic productivity
  • career development
  • international learning


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