Do Chinese Students in Public and Private Higher Education Institutes Perform at Different Level in One of the Leadership Skills: Critical Thinking?: An Exploratory Comparison

Do Chinese Students in Public and Private Higher Education Institutes Perform at Different Level in One of the Leadership Skills: Critical Thinking?: An Exploratory Comparison

Chengbo Wang (Edge Hill University, UK), Mark Schofield (Edge Hill University, UK), Xiaomei Li (Tianjin University, China) and Xuan Ou (Hunan International Economics University, China)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch013
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There is an increasing demand on higher education institutes (HEIs) to cultivate more professionals with strategic leadership. Among those skills possessed by a strategic leader, critical thinking (CT) is a crucial one, which must be equipped by the graduates, not only for making appropriate decision in their future work, but also for learning efficacy within their higher education process and their later continuous career progression. Correspondingly, HEIs worldwide are endeavouring to cultivate their students of CT skills. Currently, more and more Chinese students are coming to western HEIs for overseas study. To enhance Chinese students' CT competence before and after their boarding on the overseas study, and also to facilitate their host and home institutes in developing effective strategies of further assistance to improve their CT competence, it is important to thoroughly understand the Chinese students' current CT capability and development approaches. This chapter presents an exploration on the competence level and the cultivation methods of CT capability of the current students in business/management programmes in two Chinese case universities: a top public and a top private institute. Based on the findings from the dimensions of undergraduate students and their instructors, the research reveals that in general students from private and public institutes have differences in CT competence, however with a mixed picture on the patterns of differences as perceived by themselves and instructors. These findings inform the home and host institutes on strategies to facilitate and help the Chinese students and those with similar situations on CT competence development and improvement, and consequentially contribute to the cultivation of a strong leadership.
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With the accelerated development of the economy and businesses, there is an increased need for the higher education institutes (HEIs) to equip their students with more comprehensive competences besides academic knowledge. Strategic leadership is one critical element of these competences.

The current globalised economy signals the need of more professionals with strategic leadership to lead the businesses to succeed in the intensified market competition. Research has evidenced and emphasised the positive link between critical thinking (CT) and strategic leadership competence; a leader without sufficient critical thinking in decision making can cause negative consequences (Pykhtina, 2011; Ricketts, 2005; Semerci, 2010).

Thus, it is well perceived that CT is one of the most important transferrable skills higher education graduates should possess and is regarded as crucial for success in their current academic study and future career development (Floyd, 2011; Tapper, 2004; Davies, 2013; Harrell, 2011; Hammer & Green, 2011; Tapper, 2004; Davies, 2013; Harrell, 2011; Ladyshewsky, 2006; Hammer & Green, 2011). CT has been embedded as an important content of education by HEIs in both western countries (e.g., UK) and eastern countries (e.g., China) and has been receiving increased emphasis in recent decades (Wu, 2004; Gu, 2013; Zhang & Yin, 2012; Yu, et al., 2013). However, that the Chinese students lack of critical thinking capability has been contended by both Chinese and western academics (Zhang & Yin, 2012; Gu, 2013; Yu, et al., 2013). This phenomenon has further highlighted to the Chinese academia on the importance of CT and the development/improvement of students’ CT competence in HEIs (Yu, et al., 2013; Wu, 2004; Gu, 2013; Zhang & Yin, 2012). Nevertheless, compared with western HEIs, the Chinese HEIs have not yet done sufficiently on their students’ CT competence cultivation (Gu, 2013; Zhang & Yin, 2012). This situation has been reflected by Chinese students’ relatively poor performance of critical thinking in their assignment writing, class discussion and group work after aboard the host HEIs’ education programmes, compared to their local peers in western countries (Xiao & Dyson 1999; Pratt et al., 1999; Clark & Gieve, 2006; Jones, 2005; Shi, 2006; Davies, 2013; Atkinson, 1997; Biggs, 1996; Carson, 1992; Ballard & Clanchy, 1991; Gu, 2013; Zhang & Yin, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Strategic Leadership: Strategic leadership refers to the capability/skills for anticipation and assurance of flexibility of business activities, for consistent strategic thinking for effective and efficient decision-making, and cooperation and lead work with others to initiate meaningful actions and changes that will entail a prosperous and bright future of the organization.

Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is a rational reasoning process including identifying and validating the understanding and arguments focusing on certain issues or topics; it serves as the fundamental essential of strategic leadership for effectively and efficiently selecting, digesting and analysing, applying and evaluating the data/information obtained, as well as reflecting on the consequences of events.

In-Class Discussion: In-class discussion is a process of free viewpoint presentation within classroom, facilitated by tutors, it can promote interactive communication among students, and inspire new ideas and facilitate students’ learning from each other; during the discussion students need to critically evaluate viewpoints from diverse perspectives, which is a typical CT process.

Case Study: Case study is a documented study of a specific real-life or imagined business situation, it is often used as a training method in education environment. Students through analysing the cases and developing as well as presenting their understanding and solutions, apply their learnt theoretical knowledge in tackling practical problems. It is a very popular method used in HEIs’ business/management courses, to facilitate students’ learning and relevant skills’ development, including CT.

Group Work: Group work is a very common approach used by many academics in improving students’ learning effectiveness on relevant knowledge points; group work can enhance students’ engagement in the learning and improve their CT skills’ development and application through interactive communication between team members.

Instructor: Instructor is a general term used in this research, refers to the academic staff who deliver the teaching to students in HEIs, in some countries instructor is also loosely called as “tutor” while in China is usually called as “teacher” by students.

Debate: Debate is a formal direct oral argumentation between two or more people on a pre-determined topic during a specified time period. It can be used by instructors to build the CT skills of their students; during the preparation for the debate and the live debate exercise, students need to research relevant materials and think carefully and dialectically their viewpoints and their opponents’, this process provides a good opportunity for them to improve and enhance their CT skills, as well as verify and demonstrate their capability to effectively conduct CT in their subject learning.

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