Mark Krzanowski talks to Lisa Magloff about the challenges and opportunities on the EAP agenda at Chinese universities.
Recent years have witnessed an unprecedented growth in the delivery of Transnational Education (TNE) courses worldwide. This is especially true of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), Foundation and dual degree courses offered by Anglophone universities in China.
What has created this growth in TNE courses in China?
Mark: This is linked to the fact that an investment in a university degree in an ‘Inner Circle’ country is now too costly for most international students, who instead wish to opt for a more affordable option at home.
A number of British universities have developed a niche market for TNE in China. This is buoyed by China’s economic status and the growth of a large middle class with a penchant for high-quality education with an internationally-recognised endorsement.
What are the main challenges in EAP courses as part of TNE in Chinese universities?
Mark: One of the main challenges is the difficulty in replicating the conditions and teaching environment of the partner university. This is especially true when it comes to resources, as access to the internet, research and to some types of books can be limited.
Also, student progression may be slower because students are not surrounded by everyday English-speakers. Students may also come with a different set of skills and proficiencies from what EAP teachers are used to in other areas. For example, the Chinese educational systems, before students enter HE, tend to neglect speaking and listening in favour of reading and writing. Students can write reasonably well, but when it comes to listening or speaking it is a shock to the system to these students.
Anyone thinking of teaching in China will also need to be prepared for dealing with a monolingual and mono-cultural class. The Confucian system of values have somehow made Chinese students relatively shy, because you need to always be harmony-seeking, consensus-seeking.
To cope with this, teachers should be able to demonstrate how students work internationally. This can be done by showing videos of a classroom and by engaging students in kinaesthetic activities and collaborative work in pairs or groups. Still, students in China are often surprised by teaching methods that include active student involvement.
How do you compensate for the differences between the Chinese and western EAP classrooms?
Mark: A lot can be done outside formal teaching in the classroom. For example, through extracurricular activities such as poetry nights, dubbing competitions, and TED Talk-like events. In my experience, these activities make students less self-aware and able to produce language more spontaneously, without feeling constrained by the rigour of the classroom.
I also found that students would often drop by to have a chat with me in the office later in the evening between 6 and 9 pm, because by so doing they didn’t feel stress or anxiety and would communicate much more confidently.
What qualifi cations should tutors of TNE EAP in China have?
Mark: I have found that relatively few tutors in the TNE collaborations in China have adequate teaching qualifications, be it at level 5 or level 7. I appreciate that this is largely because it can be difficult to persuade people to go and work in China.
Some British Unis do have very strict rules and they ensure that the English teaching staff have got essential teacher qualifications… but this is currently a minority.
I do feel that the situation is changing, if slowly, as the Chinese government puts measures in place to improve quality assurance both in TNE and in local HE courses where English is used as a medium of instruction.
In EAP, in particular, it can be difficult to adapt to the Chinese context without a Delta, Trinity or PGCE qualification, or with an MA in TESOL. This matters, because, if EAP teachers do not have a practicum as part of their ELT qualification, they may be unable to cope with the challenges of the Chinese classroom.
There is a lot of work to be done in the area of qualifications and Cambridge Assessment and Trinity College London may well have a market opportunity in China because TNE as it is now is likely to continue in China at least until 2025. For example, TNEs could benefit from running intensive teacher-training courses in situ in China, with credentials approved by Trinity or Cambridge.
In a previous position in Dalian, I ran monthly staff development sessions to try and bridge the gaps and move from a heterogenous team to a more homogenous one.
What can teachers expect in terms of pay and conditions?
Mark: This is a very sensitive topic in Chinese HE. This is because, unlike in British HE, there is no regulatory framework; salaries can vary not only from one university to another, but also from one province to another.
In addition, contracts issued by Chinese universities directly are unlikely to offer a UK-linked or equivalent pension top-up (superannuation).
I would suggest that a new graduate with a BA or a Cert could expect to earn no more than £1,000 a month after tax, while a teacher with an MA-TESOL might start at £1,500 a month after tax.
Contracts issued directly by British universities offer the same package as a lecturer would earn in the UK. For a junior lecturer, this would be anything from £35k to £42k before tax (plus 2 return tickets home per year); while a very experienced lecturer in a senior role could earn in the range of £52k to £60k.
As for conditions, be it on a Chinese or British contract, EAP tutors can count on free accommodation on campus, 18 hours a week of contact time and a 16-week semester.
One more thing to consider is that titles given to EAP colleagues can vary: it can be any of the following: Instructor; Tutor; Teaching Fellow; Senior Teaching Fellow; Principal Teaching Fellow; Lecturer; Senior Lecturer; Associate Professor; Principal Lecturer, etc.
“Students in China are often shocked by teaching methods that include student participation.”
What have you personally gained from teaching EAP in China?
Mark: Despite the challenges, teaching EAP in a TNE setting in China offers the opportunity to add value by doing something which is new and different. And, it also offers security. For myself, I have been in EAP since 1993 and the current experience is very rewarding, particularly in that we always need a plan B if not a plan Z when it comes to professional development.
Right now, if you look at the UK, Brexit, the uncertainty about the future, EAP makes it possible to gain meaningful employment elsewhere. And that means a lot to those of us who remain loyal to the profession.
■ Mark Krzanowski is now Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) in Transnational Education (TNE) atBrunel University London (BUL) and Chongquing University of Post and Telecommunications (CQUPT). He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the IATEFL ESP SIG Journal.