Academics home for Christmas
Barry Lees (Lecturer in Criminology and Policing) and Katie Banks (International Coordinator), have just returned from a week teaching business school students at Dalian Nationalities University in the north-east of China.
Judging from their initial comments, it was a highly successful trip on many levels: Katie, 28, loved Dalian, ‘It was amazing. Clean, open, fresh, … and there was a beach near one of the campuses, stunning’. Barry added that at this time of year the climate is, ‘Sunny but very cold, gets wind from Siberia, chills you right through, but it didn’t rain’.
Barry, who had his 55th birthday while in China and was impressed with the ‘makeshift’ cake his hosts produced, was keen to explain the purpose for the visit. ‘The university already has strong links with universities overseas, including a college in Switzerland. Because of that we have a great many distance learning students across Africa and it is the university’s aim to establish links globally, to exchange good practice and give educational opportunities for students in other countries to come here’.
Professor Jane Zhang, Professor in Accounting and Finance, who was their host from the Business and Economic Faculty, spent a lot of time with them and she was fascinating. An incredibly inspiring woman, she has lived through many changes politically and culturally in her 57 years; they both felt very emotional talking to her.
There are obviously clear differences between Dalian and the University of Cumbria, as explained by Barry, ‘The main difference academically is that here we try to encourage students to think for themselves, but in China it seems to be a challenge for students to interact, be critical and participate. From my point of view, it was also testing to stand up in front of students who don’t answer questions, or even ask questions. They do come across as a bit reserved. Had we been there longer we might have established more of a rapport’.
On the flip side, there are many similarities said Barry, ‘Dalian Nationalities University is a recently established seat of HE, like the University of Cumbria. Because of that similarity and our shared ethos of widening participation, it is a natural ally. Clearly, this is what binds us’.
During the week Barry and Katie delivered lectures they had prepared especially for the Dalian students. Fortunately, the university is bi-lingual, so neither of them had to learn Mandarin. Lectures were extremely well attended as many of the students had never seen Europeans in real life and most had an image of an English professor they’d gleaned from books, or films. Most days there was time to sightsee too, although because of the sheer size of the city it was hard to pack everything in. Similar in size to Birmingham, Dalian is the financial and business hub of north-east China. The Dalian Nationalities University is just one of at least 16 universities in the city.
Contrary to popular opinion, the food was amazing, with a huge variety on offer; quite a lot of Korean and Japanese influence. Being by the coast, there is a lot of first class seafood. Their hosts were keen for Barry and Katie to experience local delicacies, ‘If we didn’t know what it was, it was noodles or tofu. But they kept changing the colours to keep us guessing’, joked Barry.
There are in excess of 20,000 students over two campuses: Kaifqu Campus, where Barry and Katie stayed; and Jinshitan campus, which is about 18km away, where they delivered lectures. The Jinshitan campus is located in the Golden Pebble Beach National Tourist Resort. Fees sound low with each student paying £360 per year (but with wages so much lower, this still makes a university education out of reach for most of the population) and more on student accommodation. It is compulsory for all students to live on campus for the duration of their course, resulting in campuses becoming like large villages. The main focus is on recruiting students from the 56 minorities and to demonstrate their pride in achieving this target there is a permanent display of student artwork representing these minorities.
The campuses are places of support and learning, a home from home. There is a strong culture of music, particularly British music, and films, but Chinese students tend to spend any free time that they have at the many extra-curricular clubs and sports, student union or societies. The whole campus feels very community based.
Sport is a compulsory module of any course and Barry and Katie were both impressed by the incredible facilities, with huge stadiums on campus, providing unlimited access to popular sports such as basketball, table tennis and football.
Barry said, ‘We could see straightaway that the approach of students is very focused, they appreciate structure and are very respectful. There’s a clear purpose about them, a particular mind set. It would be marvellous if we could learn techniques to maximise the educational value of what we do for our students’.
And the next step in this blossoming partnership? There is now an established line of communication to build on, so it is hoped to develop the exchange part of the relationship, which might involve some of the Dalian students coming over here for a taste of British higher education. One of the areas Barry and Katie highlighted as being of particular interest to students would be the arts and culture. Business and finance are very well covered at Dalian, but arts less so. But in general, the foundation stones are in place to grow our mutual knowledge and friendship.