Core competencies for the twenty-first century university education: An investigation into students' perceptions in two Chinese societies

Jingjing YAO

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The rapid expansion of university education in China brings unprecedented challenges for preparing a huge graduate population in the ever-changing society of the twenty-first century. In order to prepare university students with competencies for the twenty-first century, a holistic and deep understanding of the development of students’ competencies in university education is imperative to enable more appropriate and effective university education. This study aimed to explore university students’ perceptions on core competencies for the twenty-first century, including their perceptions on the importance of the core competencies, the self-assessment of owning the core competencies, and the perceived adequacy of university education in preparing them with core competencies. A mixed methods research design was adopted with both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The quantitative design was the dominant method used, in which a cross-sectional survey using a self-report questionnaire of 40 Likert-type items was used to collect data from 5,042 university students from Macau and Zhejiang Province in China. Since these two locations are under the different education system and Higher Education Act (Macau is a Special Administrative Region in China), this study called them as ‘two Chinese societies’. The questionnaire comprised three subscales, namely, Importance, Possession, and Adequacy. The qualitative approach was purposively set as supplements to the quantitative results, in which four focus-group interviews with university students and eight face-to-face interviews with university teachers were conducted. All the participants are public university students and teachers from Zhejiang Province and Macau. Analysis with the Rasch rating scale model found that in each subscale, the data fit the Rasch model well, the reliability of the scale was good, and substantial differential item functioning was detected by gender and location respectively. The analysis gave a profile of university students’ perceptions on the importance of competencies for the twenty-first century, self-ratings on these competencies, the perceived adequacy of university education in cultivating these competencies, and the relationships between these three aspects of students’ perceptions. The results found that students attached great importance to almost all core competencies listed in the questionnaire, perceived themselves as having acquired many of these competencies to some extent, and considered their universities to be effective in developing most of the competencies explored in this study. The qualitative interviews with university students and teachers supported the quantitative survey. Students’ perceptions on the importance of core competencies have moderate correlations with self-assessmentsand the perceived adequacy of university education (0.76 and 0.62, respectively), while self-assessments and the perceived adequacy of university education have low associations (0.24). No substantial differences in gender, grade and location were found in the students’ perceptions on these three aspects. Based on these findings, some discussions were conducted in which the importance of the students’ role was emphasised in determining the development of core competencies in the students themselves, and implications of how to select and develop core competencies for twenty-first century university education in Chinese university students were suggested. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015



  • Education
  • Higher -- Public opinion
  • Core competencies
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Hong Kong Institute of Education, 2015