Chinese kick academic exchanges up a notch

Barbara Black

For a job that didn’t exist a year ago, Liselyn Adams says the post of Vice-Provost, International Relations, is keeping her hopping.

In September, she went to China as part of a Quebec delegation, and came back excited by the challenging expectations of the Chinese.

Concordia has a relatively long history of agreements with the Chinese, some of which go back 25 years. Chinese alumni are eager to help Concordia develop its presence there, but the task has hardly begun. China is a huge and ancient country undergoing enormous change, including its expectations for education.

In Shanghai, particularly, educators have grown critical of the standard “two-plus-two” program, in which Chinese students complete a foreign degree through two years of study there and then two years abroad. The feeling is that these programs are not always to the advantage of the Chinese institutions.

“Partnerships are also moving away from language training and information technology, because these are plentiful,” Adams said. “They are encouraging new programs in the sciences, such as genomics and biology, and in teacher training.” Concordia’s strengths in the fine arts and humanities were also seen as positive.

Chinese want more than IT, English courses: Adams

Adams said the Shanghai education officials want to know more about our strongest university programs in order to invite strategic partnerships.

She plans to discuss this subject at the faculty level so Concordia can develop agree-ments that are more specific, in graduate studies particularly.

For their part, the universities and colleges of China are opening up to foreign students.

To respond to the invitation, students will want some preparatory courses. While Concordia has offered a course in Chinese history for many years, taught by Provost Martin Singer, the university started offering Mandarin language courses only two years ago.

Some Chinese institutions are creating programs specifically for foreigners.

Adams reported that the China University of Political Science and Law is developing a summer course that includes language training and visits to several Chinese cities and historical sites.

Concordia associate professor Kimberley Manning has proposed a Chinese studies research group. Adams said the inter-university group is already active, and housing them at Concordia would be advantageous.

The Chinese, impressed with Germany’s Goethe Institutes around the world, have developed Confucius Institutes as centres for Chinese culture in other countries. Adams said one of these may be established in Montreal.

China is not the only unexplored country for Western universities, Adams said, as she prepares to go to India. A new era is dawning in international study, and we must adapt.

She gave an example of how the Faculty of Fine Arts recently made creative use of a government program that is meant to encourage travel abroad.

Students from Concordia, the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands and Japan participated in a design project.

They communicated by computer over the term, forming relationships and collaborating on art-making. The students only met in Japan at the end of the project.

This was unusual for the Quebec program that financed the course, because the students weren’t studying abroad throughout the program, but “we did it anyway,” Adams said with satisfaction.

“This kind of flexibility will bring the possibility of international exchange and study to more students.”