Internationalization means more than just teaching in English

Many universities in East Asia have had remarkable success in their internationalization efforts over the past decade.

There are now 14 universities in the region in the world’s top 100, according to the latest THE rankings. An important factor has been the use of English in teaching, which has facilitated the recruitment of foreign students and staff, as well as the expansion of student exchange activities with international partners.

Japan’s Top Global University project’s goal of enrolling 300,000 foreign students has been met one year before the 2020 deadline. An equally ambitious plan in Taiwan aims to make English the language of instruction in 50% of undergraduate courses and 70% of masters programs, in line with the Bilingual Nation 2030 policy.

It should be noted, however, that these two initiatives currently only concern a select group of the best universities in their respective countries. Moreover, while improving the ability of staff to deliver courses in English is a top priority in Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan, this in itself is not enough: there are other significant challenges on the way to internationalization.

Internationalizing higher education means making the programs attractive to internationally mobile students around the world, who make their enrollment choices in part on the basis of the educational experience provided – and this depends more on how learning is structured only in the way education is delivered. Internationalization has opened up previously island teaching practices to international comparisons, forcing East Asian universities to adopt a wide range of active classroom learning strategies and facilitation skills that have been developed elsewhere.

Training is starting to be offered to allow staff to familiarize themselves with the full repertoire of skills to teach well. For example, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU), a Top Global (Track B) teaching university in Japan, has partnered with the University of Minnesota on a cooperative faculty development program to expose its academic staff to best teaching practices while improving their use. of English as a medium of instruction.

But another crucial problem in the East Asian region is that policy makers are much more ambitious than those who actually work in education when it comes to the use of English. This has led university officials to question how to bridge the gap between expectation and reality. As an example, Tsing Hua National University (NTHU), a leading Taiwanese research university well positioned to lead the 2030 bilingual nation policy, currently teaches 15% of its undergraduate courses and a third of its undergraduate courses. his postgraduate courses in English. But only about 20 percent of those who complete high school in Taiwan currently have the B2 or C levels of English proficiency normally considered necessary for admission to university programs taught in the language. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Education wants at least half of all graduates to be equipped with bilingual skills, and has therefore set a goal of at least half of all second-year students to complete more. half of their lessons in English by 2030. clearly represents a mountain to climb.

What political space do universities have to design their own solutions? The NTHU’s approach appears to be pragmatic and flexible. Although it usually uses English language textbooks for all classes, when a class consists only of local students, a course normally taught in English may revert to teaching in the native language to better achieve its results. ‘learning.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the higher education system has adapted to using English as the sole language of instruction, and all publicly funded universities now require students to meet a certain level to graduate. This prompted Lingnan University to harness its distinctive liberal artistic orientation, campus environment, and residential lifestyle to create opportunities for intercultural interactions in English beyond the classroom – facilitated by initiatives such as semesters abroad and service learning abroad. This approach can also be seen as a commitment to the employability of graduates, since English is required in most Hong Kong workplaces (although local society does not find the language much needed).

This approach should be adopted more widely. The goal-oriented internationalization program can only get us so far when it comes to English proficiency; Once these public policy goals are on track to be achieved, educators should refocus their attention on what matters most to deepen their skills. A diversified pedagogy and the extracurricular use of English will do more than too ambitious enrollment targets to create bilingual (Taiwan) or trilingual (Hong Kong) societies.

Benjamin Tak Yuen Chan is Dean of the Li Ka Shing School of Professional and Continuing Education at the Open University of Hong Kong. He is also Honorary Associate Professor of Education at the School of Vocational and Continuing Education at the University of Hong Kong.


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