Big Trouble In Little China: Growing Tensions at Nottingham’s Ningbo Campus Investigated

It pays to be a foreigner in China. At the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo Campus (UNNC), international students have access to better paid jobs, more opportunities and are exempt from the 11pm curfew that applies to Chinese students.

However, this ‘international privilege’ has given rise to a culture of resentment in the satellite campus. According to an IMPACT survey, two thirds of Ningbo

students believe that the University’s policy on domestic students is “unfair” and over 80% claim that the unequal rights distribution is harmful to inter- student relations.

“In many ways Ningbo is a microcosm of modern China, particularly in terms of China’s attitudes toward its Laowai – foreigners”

Tensions simmered between international and domestic students in the weeks leading up to the recent Ningbo Students’ Union survey in which 55% of students voted against the curfew. An incident involving two domestic
students and an English student led to a heated exchange described as racially motivated by onlookers. One student reportedly claimed “this is a UK campus”, which prompted the Chinese student to respond angrily “this
is our university, you must abide by our rules”. The following day, an anti- Internationals hate page was set up on Renren (China’s equivalent of Facebook), where comments included “go back to where you came from” and “foreigners don’t respect the Chinese”.

Unsurprisingly, the curfew – common policy at China’s universities – has been a source of conflict among students. Last month, a Halloween party held in the international block ran until half past one in the morning, resulting in a series of complaints. A threatening poster was left in the foyer blasting international students for “partying” and calling female partygoers “bitches”.

In our survey, international students overwhelmingly wanted to see the abolishment of the curfew. As it stands, the UNNC’s policy means that international and domestic students live in separate accommodation – and over half of the international students we surveyed said that living conditions made it difficult to socialise with the Chinese students.

The division within the student population is intensified by the vast array of opportunities that are available solely for international students. A foreign student can earn up to two hundred pounds modelling and fifteen pounds an hour teaching. Conversely, Chinese library staff at Ningbo earn a fairly standard wage that averages at around 80p an hour. In Ningbo, foreigners are a brand – a brand that sells.

“9 out of 10 students believe the University of Nottingham should do more to integrate its students overseas”

The UK campuses must take note and do more to support thei Chinese partners in reconciling the differences amongst the student body. Outside of academic services, Ningbo has no say in living agreements – yet UoN can surely make its influence felt.

The combination of British education with traditional Chinese living experience has created a confusing image of what Ningbo stands for. Professor Lu, the Chinese Communist Party Deputy at UNNC (a BNOC if ever you saw one), has strongly advocated a more “UK-styled university social life”. So if the students want it and the Chinese government representative wants it, why is it not happening?

Only eight years in the making, Ningbo is still a developing campus. The inequalities present within the student population are something to be overcome but, as Lu stresses, change will need to be gradual. After all, if the curfew was removed, Ningbo would be the first campus in China to do so.

To ease the transition, some have suggested creating separate accommodation so that students would be able to choose whether they want to live in a curfew or non-curfew residency. This way living experiences would be decided by personal preference, not on the basis of nationality. In the meantime, a potential curfew-free Friday and Saturday night has also been proposed – an idea that Lu is in favour of.

The promise of change has not yet received support from university administrators. However, if successful, access to equal rights would undoubtedly promote better campus relations and work toward a more positive learning environment for all students.

Kayleigh Renberg-Fawcett


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4 Comments on this post.
  • Mik Taylor
    27 January 2013 at 09:34
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    As an international student in UNNC, I agree that the curfew should be phased out and the Chinese students grsnted more freedom. The racially motivated incident was an isolated case and doesn’t represent the relationship between the students. Finally, if a party is held within our own accomodation, it doesn’t disturb the Chinese students in their separate block, so its none of the chinese students business how we choice to carry out our nights and social lives.

  • jake pace
    27 January 2013 at 09:36
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    Halloween party was sick! so worth it! Yh we got “bitches” but bitches be happenin’.

  • dan
    28 January 2013 at 13:01
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    Sounds to me like the curfew should be lifted or the international students should abide by the same rules as the Chinese students. After all, despite being at Nottingham, you are in China rather than on a compound in China. Its not preferably but you are there rather than here.

  • Mick Niles
    28 October 2013 at 14:47
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    I recommend people to stay away from this place. The campus is an unhealthy and unsafe place, in terms of, for instance, very slipery floors, lack of fire alarms, inappropriate temperatures etc. A few staff members each year get hurt while working (mainly from falling on the wet & slippery floors), some of them so badly so that they are (completely or partially) disabled. The management does not follow work safety or work insurance laws, which means that the injured/disabled staff members will get no compensation or pension, which they are entitled to according to the Chinese law.

    It is, of course, possible to compalin, but the grievances that the employees submit are investigated in a very biased way, in support of the management. These investigations are conducted by managers at University of Nottingham in UK or at UNNC. Thus, the management at this University can treat their staff members in any (bad, unfair) way they prefer, and no one can protest successfully…

    People claim that we should accept that this is China and that we cannot expect the same standard as in the UK. However, the University is very rich (the students pay 80,000 RMB per year), and many of the managers are British (and get support from UN UK, in terms of biased grievances etc.).

    The least one could ask for when being offered a position here is to be informed about the fact that the University doesn’t follow the Chinese laws and that you have no chance to be really listened to in case you complain or get any compensation if disabled. At least those who get injured here regret that they ever put their feet at UNNC or got involved with the University of Nottingham in the first place…

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