Teacher Performance in Chinese Higher Education Sector


One of the most under-researched areas in education leadership is the inability of policymakers to improve staffing models to optimize learning outcomes in the higher education sector. Particularly, this problem is common in China where evidence shows that there is untapped potential among teachers because school administrators assign them similar roles and responsibilities to promote equality in education (Shah and Cardozo, 2016; Chang et al., 2018). Relative to this challenge, Steinberg, and Garrett (2016) suggest that most school heads assign teachers the same roles and responsibilities, while, in reality, some of them may have skills that are suited for different contexts outside of the assigned roles and responsibilities. Ning, Rind and Asad (2020) affirm the same finding by highlighting inconsistencies in role assignment processes that lead to personal dissatisfaction and intolerance among teachers. For example, some teaches may be good at working on coaching tasks while others may be conversant in curriculum development, or in teaching with information communication technology (ICT) tools (Nussli and Oh, 2015). In this regard, there is a need to understand how staffing models can be improved to optimize teacher performance.


In this literature review, 15 sources were analyzed for relevance to the research issue. The articles comprised of books and journals obtained from reputable databases, including Sage journals and Emerald Publishing. Keywords used for the search included “higher education,” “teachers’ roles,” “education leadership” and “China.” The inclusion criterion for sourcing the articles was premised on the publication date of the materials identified for review. In detail, the researcher only included peer-reviewed articles that were published within the last five years (2016-2021). The importance of doing so was to make sure that the analysis only included updated articles focusing on the research issue. Consequently, journals that were older than five years were excluded from the analysis.

Using the above-mentioned inclusion and exclusion criteria, 89 articles emerged from the search. Sixty of them were excluded from the analysis because they did not meet the guidelines outlined above, thereby leaving 20 articles, which were further subjected to more analysis based on their relevance to the research topic. This evaluation criterion was used to further eliminate five articles, thereby leaving the researcher with 15 articles for review, which are discussed below.

Literature Review

To explain the policy challenges limiting teachers’ freedom at work, it is important to investigate the views of researchers, such as Song and Xu (2019), who point out that the policy framework governing teachers’ conduct in China has undergone two main stages: the building stage and the improvement stage. Based on policy reviews and case studies, the authors further suggested that the main issue affecting the performance of higher education teachers in China is policy gaps that exist between different classes of teachers. Consequently, they advocated for a policy shift towards potential-oriented development that thrives on forging cooperative partnerships between teachers, education authorities, and local communities to nurture innovation in professional development.

The pursuit of a collaborative approach between different education stakeholders is a commonly adopted strategy in China and around the world. For example, in a study authored by Souza and Arthur (2020), it was reported that the contextual constraints in which teachers operate lead to high levels of collaboration between them and their students. This finding was developed after sampling the views of teaching assistants who worked in Brazilian complementary schools in the UK using interviews (Souza and Arthur, 2020). Overall, the researchers advocated the promotion of a “social unit” of learning, which is achievable if collaboration between teachers and other stakeholders fosters.

The policy approach adopted by the Chinese government to regulate teacher conduct has been part of a national quest by authorities to modernize their education system. An article by Yuan (2018) affirms this fact by suggesting that the education policies adopted by the government have a dual priority agenda (DPA), whereby education development does not exist in isolation because it is part of the broader conversation on national development. Relative to this statement, it is suggested that China should adopt a reciprocal relationship with the state, whereby government policies should not be divorced from the modernization of the education system.

The role of the state in influencing teaching and learning outcomes has been studied in western-based research studies as well. For example, an investigation conducted by Benoliel and Berkovich (2020) regarding the impact of education policies developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on member countries found that most evaluation procedures for analyzing teachers’ performances were based on traditional metrics of collectivist educational goals. Thus, it was established that the self-efficacy guidelines proposed by the OECD were suitable for countries with specific characteristics such as those that prioritize socialization programs. The impact of government policies on education development has also been partly explored within the context of school leadership and its impact on teachers’ performances and evaluation outcomes. For example, an article authored by Wang and Chen (2016) established that the leadership styles of school principals had a significant effect on the outcomes of evaluation processes. Therefore, proposals were made that suggested that staffing models need to be improved by enhancing school administrative units (Wang and Chen, 2016). The results were developed after the researchers employed the qualitative narrative inquiry technique as the main data analysis method while adding document reviews, interviews, and observations as additional sources of data.

In a different study authored by Yang (2019), the role of the government in influencing teacher development through school leadership was also examined from the perspective of curriculum development. The researchers noted that most educational policies adopted in China have been borrowed from western countries but adopted with marginal modifications to fit the local context of learning. These findings were developed after interviewing five school leaders who worked in the early childhood education sector. An article authored by Poole (2019) also investigated the same issue by exploring the lived experiences of Chinese teachers working in international schools located in Shanghai. The researcher sampled the respondents’ views by interviewing them and employing the narrative inquiry method as the main technique for reviewing their feedback. They found that most teachers lacked agency and financial security as key challenges in enabling them to implement their roles and responsibilities. At the same time, the researchers believed that their professional identities were marginalized because of the adoption of standardized operational procedures (Poole, 2019). Overall, the researcher was in favor of adopting a localized approach of assigning teachers’ duties and responsibilities, as opposed to a global educational precariat, which has been linked with international education teachers working in China.

The lived experiences of international teachers in China described above mirrors some of the ideas generated by other researchers, who suggest that the main problem associated with the country’s education system is its lack of proper representation at the helm of the governance structure. Aiston and Yang (2017) supported this assertion by investigating the composition of Hong Kong’s educational leadership panel, which was gender-biased against women. The authors further disclosed that there is little research done in Asia to highlight some of the leadership problems that permeate throughout all cadres of education. Furthermore, it was reported that there is missing data not about female teachers and their unique characteristics that would help to improve learning outcomes. This situation has led to many teachers shying away from showing their unique characteristics because those in positions of power rarely appreciate them. These findings were generated after studying large-scale empirical data provided by teachers working in a Hong Kong academy. In a different study, the process of assigning teachers” roles and responsibilities were analyzed from a racial perspective. Sun (2018) conducted the study and found out that discriminative policies led to four times fewer retention rates among African-American teachers compared to their white counterparts. The gap was attributed to worsening school and community contexts in which teachers worked. The findings were developed after examining survey data from North Carolina.

The findings highlighted above suggest the existence of a gap between the policies adopted by government officials and the lived experiences of teachers. This problem does not only exist in China because, as reported above, western-based studies have also reported the same outcome in their countries. Additionally, a study authored by Schatz (2016) to investigate how Finnish institutions have been designed to be centers of educational exports found that there is a significant gap between vision and reality. This statement indicates Chinese educational authorities are not the only ones having trouble reconciling their policy agendas with teachers’ lived experiences. The data was obtained by interviewing representatives of Finland’s educational system working in international offices.

In the Chinese context, educational policies governing higher education activities seem to have evolved to recognize some of the modern pressing challenges affecting local teachers. Consequently, there have been attempts to lure teachers who went abroad to seek “greener pastures” to come back home and help build the country’s educational system. A study by Zhu (2019) affirms the same position through an evaluation of the efficacy of talent programs, which have been implemented at national, provincial, city, and state levels. These findings were developed after reviewing policy trends adopted by the Chinese government in the country’s higher education sector since the 90s. Yu (2020) has also explored the relationship between the Chinese education system and its international peers by pointing out that the increasing focus on children as customers of the education system has alienated teachers’ interests. Furthermore, unequal power relations between China and its western counterparts have seen Chinese students reproducing the power imbalance between the two educational systems because they see western education as symbolically stronger than their country’s system (Yu, 2020). This finding was developed after the researchers interviewed 30 students and staff using semi-structured interviews.

The neglect of teachers’ interests in the Chinese education system can be traced to a high power distance between teachers and education authorities in the country. Tian and Virtanen (2020) have provided evidence supporting this statement in a study, which showed that most teachers need support from their principals to carry out their duties effectively. This attribute was found to be more impactful on their performance compared to salary or other material rewards. This finding was developed after collecting the views of 327 teachers working in Shanghai (Tian and Virtanen, 2020). The challenges faced by teachers in optimizing their performance have not only been perceived from a negative light due to restrictive policies because some researchers have provided solutions that would bypass existing traditional leadership constraints to boost performance. For example, a study by Blanchard et al. (2016) suggested the use of technology to improve teacher efficacy by bypassing traditional staff optimization models has led to improved learning outcomes from African-American students who received education services from teachers that used digital tools in their practice. Carpenter and Morrison (2018), who encouraged educators to adopt social media tools in improving teachers’ roles and responsibilities, have also supported the same approach. Broadly, these articles suggest that there is room for improving staffing models by sharing Chinese and overseas experiences to better teacher performance.


This literature review has shown that strict educational policies adopted by Chinese education authorities have undermined teachers’ performance because education stakeholders have to abide by existing rules, which are mostly centered on promoting uniformity in teaching and learning. This is a significant leadership challenge that exists in the Chinese education sector because, despite the existence of raw potential among groups of teachers, the pursuit of uniformity in staffing model implementation has made it difficult for authorities to identify latent talents that have been overlooked by simplified staffing models. However, there is a gap in the literature because most of the findings mentioned above do not specifically apply to the Chinese higher education sector. Stated differently, they have been generalized across the entire spectrum of the country’s education system. Consequently, there is a need to carry out primary research in the future to fill this gap. Additionally, most of the evidence highlighted in this document have been developed using interviews as the main data collection method. Future research should use quantitative or mixed methods of analysis for comparative purposes.

Reference List

Aiston, S. J., and Yang, Z. (2017) ‘”Absent data, absent women”: gender and higher education leadership’, Policy Futures in Education, 15(3), pp. 262-274.

Benoliel, P. and Berkovich, I. (2020) ‘Ideal teachers according to TALIS: societal orientations of education and the global diagnosis of teacher self-efficacy’, European Educational Research Journal, 4(1), pp. 1-11.

Blanchard, M. R. et al. (2016) ‘Investigating technology-enhanced teacher professional development in rural, high-poverty middle schools’, Educational Researcher, 45(3), pp. 207-220.

Carpenter, J. P. and Morrison, S. A. (2018) ‘Enhancing teacher education
with Twitter?’, Phi Delta Kappan, 100(1), pp. 25-28.

Chang, C. F. et al. (2018) ‘Exploring teachers’ emotions via nonverbal behavior during video-based teacher professional development’, AERA Open, 7(3), pp. 1-10.

Ning, B., Rind, I. A. and Asad, M. M. (2020) ‘Influence of teacher educators on the development of prospective teachers’ personal epistemology and tolerance’, SAGE Open, 4(2), pp. 1-14.

Nussli, N. C. and Oh, K. (2015) ‘A systematic, inquiry-based 7-step virtual worlds teacher training’, E-Learning and Digital Media, 12(5), pp. 502-529.

Poole, A. (2019) ‘International education teachers’ experiences as an educational precariat in China’, Journal of Research in International Education, 18(1), pp. 60-76.

Schatz, M. (2016) ‘Engines without fuel? – empirical findings on Finnish higher education institutions as education exporters’, Policy Futures in Education, 14(3), pp. 392-408.

Shah, R. and Cardozo, M. (2016) ‘Transformative teachers or teachers to be transformed? The cases of Bolivia and Timor-Leste’, Research in Comparative and International Education, 11(2), pp. 208-221.

Song, H. and Xu, M. (2019) ‘From external accountability to potential-oriented development: quality assurance system building for teacher preparation in China’, ECNU Review of Education, 2(2), pp. 137-165.

Souza, A. and Arthur, L. (2020) ‘The impact of leadership on the professional development of teachers in complementary schools’, Management in Education, 34(4), pp. 141-148.

Steinberg, M. P. and Garrett, R. (2016) ‘Classroom composition and measured teacher performance: what do teacher observation scores really measure?’, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(2), pp. 293-317.

Sun, M. (2018) ‘Black teachers’ retention and transfer patterns in North Carolina: how do patterns vary by teacher effectiveness, subject, and school conditions?’, AERA Open, 4(3), pp. 1-14.

Tian, M. and Virtanen, T. (2020) ‘Shanghai teachers’ perceptions of distributed leadership: resources and agency’, ECNU Review of Education, 7(2), pp. 324-341.

Wang, J. H. and Chen, Y. T. (2016) ‘Which way is better for teacher evaluation? The discourse on teacher evaluation in Taiwan’, Policy Futures in Education, 14(7), pp. 910-925.

Yang, W. (2019) ‘Moving from imitation to innovation: exploring a Chinese model of early childhood curriculum leadership’, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 20(1), pp. 35-52.

Yu, J. (2020) ‘Consuming UK transnational higher education in china: a Bourdieusian approach to Chinese students’ perceptions and experiences’, Sociological Research Online, 9(2), pp. 1-13.

Yuan, Z. (2018) ‘Dual priority agenda: China’s model for modernizing education’, ECNU Review of Education, 1(1), pp. 5-33.

Zhu, J. (2019) ‘The composition and evolution of China’s high-level talent programs in higher education’, ECNU Review of Education, 2(1), pp. 104-110.

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ChalkyPapers. 2023. "Teacher Performance in Chinese Higher Education Sector." September 28, 2023. https://chalkypapers.com/teacher-performance-in-chinese-higher-education-sector/.

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ChalkyPapers. "Teacher Performance in Chinese Higher Education Sector." September 28, 2023. https://chalkypapers.com/teacher-performance-in-chinese-higher-education-sector/.