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Being a Mongolian student in an ‘enclosed-wall’: an exploration of social identity construction of the Mongolian students in Minzu universities of China

Wang, Lu


Lu Wang


Catherine, 1962 Montgomery

Ourania Filippakou


Countries with domestic ethnic diversity confront many similar educational challenges: on one side, there is a need to address equalities in the public education system, thus ensuring that minority groups are able to access opportunities in education which engage their own cultures and languages; on the other side, it is apparent that equality is extremely complex and minority students across the world still confront obstacles in access to the full range of opportunities enjoyed by dominant social groups. In the context of China, the dual education system (Putong education system and Minzu education system) aims to address such challenges. Whilst these two systems run in parallel on an equal basis, they also implicitly segregate the ethnic minorities they are designed to serve.

In order to explore the impact of the Minzu education system on minority students’ experiences, perceptions, and opportunities in China, this research sets the focus on minority students in higher education, specifically, the Mongolian students studying in the Minzu universities in China. ‘Social identity’ is used as the conceptual lens to explore the perceptions of Mongolian students and their experiences in the Minzu universities. Particularly, three aspects of social identity are focused upon: ethnic identity, learning identity and how these aspects of social identity are negotiated within the institutional context of Minzu universities. In order to investigate this, a total of 31 semi-structured interviews with Mongolian students were carried out in two Minzu universities.

The major findings of the study suggest that the metaphor of an ‘enclosed-wall’ reflects the impact of the Minzu higher education system. More specifically, Mongolian identity and learning identity as two aspects of social identity are being constructed within the ‘enclosed-wall’ and this is manifested in two ways: the ethnic identity of Mongolian students becomes stronger within the Minzuuniversity but there is also a sense of segregation from others; there is a positive learning identity in Mongolian students but the disadvantages are meanwhile embedded in the learning identity. The disadvantages are reflected such as their vulnerable basis in English or Chinese language to compete in the employment market and the Mongolian language medium majors which they engage lack affirmation and applicability in the wider society.

‘Enclosed-wall’ is not necessarily of negative connotations. Sustaining the education of Mongolian students in an ‘enclosed’ system offers valuable opportunities in terms of preserving the heritage of cultural and language diversity and engaging them in the learning process. However, when the ‘enclosed-wall’ is examined in the wider context where the challenges from labour market and global HE competitiveness become intense, it seems that the effects of the ‘enclosed-wall’ would pose barriers for Mongolian students to succeed outside the ‘wall’. Thus, the social identity construction of Mongolian students can illuminate the contradictions between the protection and development of opportunities for ethnic minorities in higher education and the continuance of their segregation and their experiences of disadvantages in education and the wider society.


Wang, L. (2017). Being a Mongolian student in an ‘enclosed-wall’: an exploration of social identity construction of the Mongolian students in Minzu universities of China. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 21, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 24, 2023
Keywords Education
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Education Studies, The University of Hull
Award Date Jun 1, 2017


Thesis (6.5 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2017 Wang, Lu. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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