It pays to be a foreigner in China. At the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo Campus (UNNC), international students have access to better paid jobs, more opportunities and are exempt from the 11pm curfew that applies to Chinese students.
However, this ‘international privilege’ has given rise to a culture of resentment in the satellite campus. According to an IMPACT survey, two thirds of Ningbo
students believe that the University’s policy on domestic students is “unfair” and over 80% claim that the unequal rights distribution is harmful to inter- student relations.
“In many ways Ningbo is a microcosm of modern China, particularly in terms of China’s attitudes toward its Laowai – foreigners”
Tensions simmered between international and domestic students in the weeks leading up to the recent Ningbo Students’ Union survey in which 55% of students voted against the curfew. An incident involving two domestic
students and an English student led to a heated exchange described as racially motivated by onlookers. One student reportedly claimed “this is a UK campus”, which prompted the Chinese student to respond angrily “this
is our university, you must abide by our rules”. The following day, an anti- Internationals hate page was set up on Renren (China’s equivalent of Facebook), where comments included “go back to where you came from” and “foreigners don’t respect the Chinese”.
Unsurprisingly, the curfew – common policy at China’s universities – has been a source of conflict among students. Last month, a Halloween party held in the international block ran until half past one in the morning, resulting in a series of complaints. A threatening poster was left in the foyer blasting international students for “partying” and calling female partygoers “bitches”.
In our survey, international students overwhelmingly wanted to see the abolishment of the curfew. As it stands, the UNNC’s policy means that international and domestic students live in separate accommodation – and over half of the international students we surveyed said that living conditions made it difficult to socialise with the Chinese students.
The division within the student population is intensified by the vast array of opportunities that are available solely for international students. A foreign student can earn up to two hundred pounds modelling and fifteen pounds an hour teaching. Conversely, Chinese library staff at Ningbo earn a fairly standard wage that averages at around 80p an hour. In Ningbo, foreigners are a brand – a brand that sells.
“9 out of 10 students believe the University of Nottingham should do more to integrate its students overseas”
The UK campuses must take note and do more to support thei Chinese partners in reconciling the differences amongst the student body. Outside of academic services, Ningbo has no say in living agreements – yet UoN can surely make its influence felt.
The combination of British education with traditional Chinese living experience has created a confusing image of what Ningbo stands for. Professor Lu, the Chinese Communist Party Deputy at UNNC (a BNOC if ever you saw one), has strongly advocated a more “UK-styled university social life”. So if the students want it and the Chinese government representative wants it, why is it not happening?
Only eight years in the making, Ningbo is still a developing campus. The inequalities present within the student population are something to be overcome but, as Lu stresses, change will need to be gradual. After all, if the curfew was removed, Ningbo would be the first campus in China to do so.
To ease the transition, some have suggested creating separate accommodation so that students would be able to choose whether they want to live in a curfew or non-curfew residency. This way living experiences would be decided by personal preference, not on the basis of nationality. In the meantime, a potential curfew-free Friday and Saturday night has also been proposed – an idea that Lu is in favour of.
The promise of change has not yet received support from university administrators. However, if successful, access to equal rights would undoubtedly promote better campus relations and work toward a more positive learning environment for all students.