Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Faculty of Education


The purpose of this study was to examine changes in tertiary English teaching in China and the perceptions and reactions of university English teachers, administrators and policy-makers to these changes. In particular, the study focused on the tension between policy and reality in the areas of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in Chinese university English teaching. The key research question, therefore, related to how tertiary English teachers are meeting the challenges of the changing expectations of their profession, taking into account the complex context of tertiary English teaching in China with its characteristic historical, cultural, economic and political issues. Different from most other research in this field in China, the study adopted a sociocultural perspective, using Bourdieu’s (1971b; 1984) notion of ‘field’ and Bernstein’s (1990; 2000) ‘three message systems’ to diagnose the expectations placed on English instructors as a result of changes in what to teach (curriculum), how to teach (pedagogy), and how to assess (assessment and evaluation). The study, finally, was organized around the principles of temporality, autonomy, and specialisation (Maton, 2004a, 2005) to identify teachers’ and administrators’ orientation to change, the degree of autonomy conferred by the changes and the specialist knowledge needed to respond to the changes. A qualitative inquiry approach was adopted to explore thick and authentic data from a variety of sources, including policy documents, university syllabi, course designs, textbooks, assessment instruments, surveys, and interviews with teachers, administrators and policy-makers. It was found that, although there is a great recognition of the need for reform, attempts have so far been ineffective because: - policy appears to be inconsistent and unclear in its theoretical basis; - the universities tend not to play a mediating role in interpreting national policy at the local level, leaving teachers to fall back on what is familiar; - there is a lack of adequate pre-service training for English language instructors in the areas of ELT curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, and a lack of sufficient in service professional development for further understanding and implementing policy in their teaching; - textbooks and external examinations dominate tertiary English teaching, inhibiting change; - as a result, university English language instruction is in a state of inertia and English language instructors are feeling confused and uncertain. The study argues that power over university English language education remains centralised despite the apparent policy mandate to devolve autonomy in curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment to the universities and university English language instructors do not have the necessary background and experience in language education to assume autonomy or implement reform.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.