An interest in students’ sense of belonging to their universities or colleges has been gathering momentum in research on student persistence at their chosen institution (Hausmann et al., 2007; Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Strayhorn, 2019). The stronger one’s sense of belonging to the university, the greater likelihood of a student’s commitment to that institution and the more likely it is that they will remain in the university. Developing belongingness to university/college can be particularly challenging for students from marginalised social groups (such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, low-income students, first-generation students, students with disabilities and LGBT students, to name a few).
Though South and South-east Asian ethnic minorities represent the fastest-growing demographic in Hong Kong, their low attendance rates in higher education have raised public attention. The latest 2016 Hong Kong population by-census reported that the attendance rate of minority youth aged 18 to 24 years was 43.3 per cent, trailing the overall population by 9.3 per cent, and that the gap between minority youth and that of the overall population had increased over the previous decade. Young people among these groups are viewed as uniformly ‘a victimised class’ (Erni & Leung, 2014, p. 214) in a society in which the dominant Chinese culture ‘exerts an influence not through an overt action but subtly through the views of individuals and their long held beliefs’ (Kennedy & Hue, 2011, p. 351); and where minorities are racialised as ‘non-Chinese speaking’ on local school and university campuses; a label that assumes minority groups are linguistically and academically deficit and are thereby less likely to access, persist and complete university than other peers (Chee, 2018; Hong Kong Unison, 2015).
In our article in the British Educational Research Journal (Gao & Liu, 2021), we showcase the findings from a study that address the central research question: How do ethnic minoritised students in Hong Kong negotiate a sense of belonging on a university campus? Through engaging in qualitative individual interviews with 12 university students of South/South-east Asian ethnicity in Hong Kong and identifying themes from the conceptual framework and sense of belonging literature, the research aimed to add nuance and depth regarding the ways minoritised students defined and made meaning of belonging, as well as to reveal the student-described influences (that is environment, relationships and activities) on belonging.
Our findings suggested that students’ feelings of being connected to the university and their individual programme – and the depth and quality of intragroup dynamics – are keys to a sense of belonging among ethnic minority students. The findings also elucidated a lack of cross-cultural interaction and racial/ethnic diversity within the university environment, which shaped participants’ feelings of isolation and exclusionary experiences as they sought to adjust to the campus academically and socially.
‘Our findings suggested that students’ feelings of being connected to the university and their individual programme – and the depth and quality of intragroup dynamics – are keys to a sense of belonging among ethnic minority students.’
The evolution of globalisation and ensuing internationalisation of higher education necessitates radical reform of curricula and pedagogical practices to promote education for global citizenship and intercultural understanding (Hanson, 2010). Higher education institutions around the world need to reflect the changing global reality and to better prepare students to navigate a complex, interconnected yet increasingly fractured world in which globalisation is being challenged by a resurgence of nationalism and xenophobia in many cultures in the East and West.
This blog is based on the article ‘Guests in someone else’s house? Sense of belonging among ethnic minority students in a Hong Kong university’ by Fang Gao and Henry Chi Yin Liu, published by the British Educational Research Journal. It has been made free-to-view for those without subscriber access, courtesy of our publisher, Wiley.
Chee, W. C. (2018). Opportunities, challenges, and transitions: Educational aspirations of Pakistani migrant youth in Hong Kong. Children’s Geographies, 16(1), 92–104.
Erni, J. N., & Leung, L. Y. M. (2014). Understanding South Asian minorities in Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Press.
Gao, F., & Liu, H. C. Y. (2021). Guests in someone else’s house? Sense of belonging among ethnic minority students in a Hong Kong university. British Educational Research Journal. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3704
Hanson, L. (2010). Global citizenship, global health, and the internationalization of curriculum: A study of transformative potential. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14(1), 70–88.
Hausmann, L. R. M., Schofield, J. W. & Woods, R. L. (2007). Sense of belonging as a predictor of intentions to persist among African American and White first-year college students. Research in Higher Education, 48(7), 803–839.
Hong Kong Unison. (2015). Research on ethnic minority students’ access to post-secondary education. Hong Kong Unison. https://unison.org.hk/DocumentDownload/Researches/R201508%20Post%20Secondar%20y%20Report.pdf
Hurtado, S., & Carter, D. F. (1997). Effects of college transition and perceptions of the campus racial climate on Latino college students’ sense of belonging. Sociology of Education, 70(4), 324–345.
Kennedy, K. J., & Hue, M. T. (2011). Researching ethnic minority students in a Chinese context: Mixed methods design for cross cultural understandings. Comparative Education, 47(3), 343–354.
Strayhorn, T. L. (2019). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students (2nd ed.). Routledge.