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Women's experiences of higher education in New Zealand: Comparing the perspectives of New Zealand and Chinese women

The perceptions of women and the nature of higher education have undergone dramatic changes since the 19th century. Women have gradually obtained the same rights and opportunities as men to pursue and participate in higher education. Today, women even outnumber men in higher education in many developed and developing countries. This study explores, from a qualitative point of view, some of the reasons why more and more women prefer to get higher qualifications and compares women’s experiences and perspectives on their higher education, work and life choices in relation to two contexts – New Zealand and China. This study began the investigation with a literature review to examine how women’s positions have increased presence and rights in political, economic, cultural and educational areas through three waves of feminism. In particular the effect the three waves had on the structure and shape of higher education and gender roles. In addition, this study also considers the gradual shift of focus in lifelong learning and the application of human capital theory (HCT) from social democratic visions to the neo-liberal ideas. This shift being the movement away from the human potential for life fulfillment to education as the mechanism to develop economies by increasing productivity and incomes. In order to examine contemporary motivations of women’s participation in higher education, and the relationship between education, employment and personal life, this study used face-to-face interviews and answering questions via e-mail with seven participants to collect the data. The participants included three Chinese women and four New Zealand women who are or were enrolled in higher education in New Zealand at the University of Waikato. Thematic analysis of interview data was combined with the review of existing literature in order to argue that the most significant motivation of women participating in higher education is to gain increased career opportunities and higher incomes. Both of these external motivations are largely a production of neo-liberal understanding of lifelong learning theory and HCT. Women accepted the individualistic responsibility of education and employability without the debating of the authenticity of these two assumptions. They assumed that the government did not need to play a role. In addition, this thesis also argues that participating in higher education is viewed by the women to be positive normally because the benefits that higher education can bring include a sense of belonging, personal growth, and active citizenship. However, the women also expressed views reflecting the pressures of work-life balance, the challenges of combining study with relationships or children. Thus this thesis argues that the experiences from participating in higher education are more complex and can be negative. For modern women, the main challenge is to how to balance the different demands of work, life and education. Sometimes, women have to defer marrying and having children to solely focus on study. This deferment of life course in turn can have a potential negative impact on women’s lives. Moreover, gender discrimination is still against women in relation to their educational levels, and decisions relating to family formation and age. The extent of this problem depends however on the context. While for the most part the women’s views were incredibly similar regardless of country of origin in relation to discrimination, the New Zealand and Chinese women have different perspectives, experiences or understandings. Discrimination is more common and more tolerated in China. Despite legislative changes more work needs to be done to further the rights of women in China.
Type of thesis
Wu, Y. (2012). Women’s experiences of higher education in New Zealand: Comparing the perspectives of New Zealand and Chinese women (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6614
University of Waikato
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