Exploring the perceptions and experiences of returnee academics’ re-adaptation and professional identity (Re-)construction at an application-oriented university in a second-tier city in China

  • Bayan RUAN

Student thesis: EdD Thesis


As more Chinese individuals choose to pursue their studies abroad, a significant number then return to China to work for Chinese Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The re-adaptation of these returnee academics has increasingly garnered research attention. Such teachers’ professional identity (TPI) (re-)construction plays a crucial role in their overall satisfaction and the contributions they make to their respective fields. However, the existing research literature focuses mainly on returnee academics based in top universities and first-tier cities in China, with only a limited focus on exploring their TPI reconstruction. To address this gap, this present study investigates the re-adaptation and professional identity (re-)construction of 12 returnee academics in an application-oriented university in a second-tier city in China.
The research adopts case study as the design frame, and utilizes a conceptual theoretical framework which draws on elements of Wenger’s Community of Practice theory (CoPT), Bourdieu’s Social Practice theory (SPT), and Moscovici’s Social Cognition Representation theory (SCRT).
The findings indicate that the returnee academics' separationalist approach to acculturation while abroad, coupled with their decision to work in second-tier cities upon returning to China, may have positive influences on the (re-)construction of their TPI. Such teachers are also shown to exhibit a higher sense of professional self-esteem. However, the findings also suggest that the institutional platform and the macro environment of Chinese HEIs, may exert negative influences on their sense of (re-)constructed identity. The study thus offers several potentially valuable insights for prospective returnees aiming to pursue careers in Chinese HEIs, enabling them to anticipate and proactively prepare for potential challenges. The study also recommends that policymakers implement measures to facilitate the seamless re-adaptation of returnee academics and in so doing strengthen the overall development of Chinese HEIs.
Date of AwardJul 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
SupervisorDouglas Bell (Supervisor) & Anwei Feng (Supervisor)


  • Chinese Higher Education Institutions (Chinese HEIs)
  • returnee academics
  • teachers’ professional identity (TPI)
  • acculturation overseas
  • re-adaptation

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