Deanship at Chinese Universities: A Thematic Literature Review


  • Peng Lui University of Manitoba
  • Nian Ruan



deanship, higher education, literature review, Chinese universities, comparative studies


Deanship, the critical middle level of leadership in higher education, has been a relatively under-studied area in the Chinese context. Academic deans play significant roles in higher education, as they connect university leaders, administrative staff, faculty members, students, and the public. With the changing environment within and outside higher education, academic deans are encountering increasing role conflicts and challenges. Most of the literature discussing deanship has been concerned deans in Western societies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and some countries in Europe. In China, deans’ leadership is situated in a different cultural and political discourse in higher education institutions, as they interact with academic, administrative, and political leadership. This study aims to investigate the status quo of the literature on deanship in Chinese universities, identify knowledge gaps, compare the Chinese literature with the existing literature in the West, and suggest future research directions. This article uses a narrative review method to examine the literature about deanship and to extract major themes in the field: roles and performance, challenges, effectiveness, and leadership development. Using these themes, it explores the literature on academic deans’ leadership in universities in China. The study found that the qualities necessary for deanship in Chinese universities emphasize deans’, communication competence, capacity to balance academic and administrative roles and ability to deal with faculty members and university leaders under the Communist Party’s leadership. Chinese academic deans have comparatively more constraints on their capacity to set goals and create vision in their faculties. They also face similar challenges to their counterparts in the West: role conflicts as scholars and academic managers, ambiguous expectations, and work stress. Suggestions and strategies for improving deans’ leadership at Chinese universities are also put forward.

Author Biographies

Peng Lui, University of Manitoba

Prior to working at the Faculty of Education of University of Manitoba, Dr. Peng Liu was an assistant professor at Faculty of Education of University of Hong Kong. His research interests include Indigenous leadership cross cultures, effective leadership, higher education leadership, educational change, educational policy, teacher professional development, and international and comparative education. Dr. Liu earned his doctorate degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Dr. Liu has published articles in peer-reviewed journals including Education Management, Administration and Leadership, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, the Journal of Educational Administration, the International Journal of Leadership in Education, Education Psychology, and Teaching and Teacher Education. His most recent book entitled “Transforming Turnaround Schools in China: Approaches, Challenges and Achievements” is published by Springer in 2021.

Nian Ruan

Dr. Nian RUAN is a researcher in the Strategic Planning and Development Office at Shenzhen Technology University (SZTU, Shenzhen, China) and currently focuses on studies aboutt university of applied science and graduate education. Before joining SZTU, Nian has obtained her PhD from Faculty of Education, the University of Hong Kong in 2021. Her research interests include higher education policies and leadership, women professors’ intellectual leadership, Chinese international students’ mobility, teaching and learning in higher education. Her articles have been published in international peer-reviewed journals, such as Qualitative Research, Higher Education Quarterly, Educational Philosophy and Theory. She also has research and management work experience in public and private universities, as well as provincial education bureau in China.




How to Cite

Lui, P., & Ruan, N. (2023). Deanship at Chinese Universities: A Thematic Literature Review. International Journal for Leadership in Learning, 23(1), 185–212.