This paper raises the question of how flexible approaches to learning are to contextual factors, as opposed to being culturally determined, with specific reference to autonomy in Chinese students studying in the UK. We describe the outcome of a research project which investigated Chinese undergraduates studying English language as part of their UK university degree. The programme in question required students to engage in self-directed and Tandem learning. Reflections written by Chinese students were compared with those of European (Erasmus) students, and it was found that the Chinese students expressed at least as much appreciation of the benefits of autonomous study as did the European students, and claimed to make equally good use of the opportunity. Differences in responses to the programme could be attributed to differences in language abilities and learning needs. This suggests that, given appropriate conditions, what are apparently culturally determined dispositions towards a certain approach to learning can turn out to be quite flexible. The alternative explanation, that the particular students in the study were not typical Chinese learners, should alert us to the heterogeneity in supposedly homogeneous cultures of learning, and the danger of characterising groups of learners with reductionist categories
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