One way TIRF meets its mission is to provide professional services and expertise to language education centers and other entities offering language education programs. Via its Program Review services, TIRF makes research-based recommendations and identifies leading practices to help its clients achieve their goals, thereby helping to advance the field of English language education.
As an example, TIRF was commissioned to conduct a review of the Center for Language Education (CLE) at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, China, in the fall of 2022, as a follow-up review of the Center by TIRF five years ago. TIRF formed a review committee consisting of three board members (David Nunan, Suzanne Panferov Reese, and Jun Liu) and its Chief Operating Officer (Ryan Damerow). The committee members received a review proposal from the CLE’s leadership and divided tasks among themselves. Given the pandemic and restricted international travelling, the review was conducted in a hybrid format. Jun Liu visited the university earlier this month while the rest of the TIRF team reviewed materials (a 420-page report prepared by SUSTech) online. The scope of the review covers six categories: Development Strategies; Curriculum; Teaching Staff; Teaching; Support to Student Learning; and Quality Assurance.
CLE’s development objectives are clearly articulated and documented in its report to TIRF, based on the recommendation of the Foundation five years ago:
- To create a learning environment conducive to the learning and teaching of foreign languages;
- To develop a teaching team of high caliber;
- To promote the understanding of other languages and culture;
- To enhance the use of the English language as a medium for learning, education, and research; and
- To enhance the building of SUSTech’s international culture.
As we have found consistently throughout our review, the CLE’s objective stated above are being achieved through carefully articulated and executed strategies.
The CLE has accomplished a great deal over the past five years. It has strengthened its development strategies and has consolidated and improved upon its curriculum and extra-curricular activities. It has done a superb job in recruiting and retaining high-caliber instructors. It has focused on teaching innovation and technology-enhanced independent learning. Needless to say, the Center’s leadership has built rapport with instructors whose civic engagement and support for student learning – through both teaching and providing guidance and services for students – have ensured the quality of programs, teaching effectiveness, and outstanding learning outcomes.
As we work toward wrapping up the review, I cannot help but think: What type of language center shall we envision for the future? How can such a language center help its parent university gain international distinction and become a world-class university?
Nowadays, with the low enrollment of international students, language centers in many English-speaking countries have suffered setbacks. In the case of SUSTech, its enrollment figures are not a concern. However, as it is a prominent science and technology university in China (ranked among the top universities in China), its leadership aspires to become a world-class STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) university and reach distinction in internationalization. To achieve this goal, the university desires to enhance English-medium instruction. As such, SUSTech has been focusing on trying to offer up to 40% of its courses in English in order to attract more international students and faculty, on the one hand, and to improve the English communicative competence of its domestic students, on the other.
In addition to skill-enhanced language classes offered by the CLE through a systematic and gradated curriculum, the university encourages its faculty to offer English-medium instruction (EMI) in all content courses. So far, up to 40% of the courses are taught in English. Upon class observation and interviews of university leaders, administrators, teachers, and students, we found that that teaching methods could be further refined and that some of the courses taught in English could be improved by increasing opportunities for interaction.
Based on issues like these, it is apparent that the CLE can play a critical role in enhancing content teachers’ methods when delivering instruction in English.
Needless to say, the CLE will play a major role in the university’s global strategy by experimenting with different pathways to address this gap. Approaches such as co-teaching EMI courses, providing additional services related to various disciplines, scaffolding students with effective learning strategies, and co-directing students in writing research papers can deliver major benefits to students, teachers, the CLE, and SUSTech.
It is obvious that the university leadership has strived to enhance campus internationalization by placing EMI as its top priority. TIRF is suggesting a detailed action plan that addresses:
- An implementation plan and timeline for furthering EMI-delivered courses;
- Documenting progress made and existing challenges;
- Faculty and staff recruitment, retention, and professional development; and
- Opportunities to increase research-based activities amongst colleagues across disciplines at the university.
TIRF’s Professional Services are an ideal way for the Foundation to work toward achieving its mission. Engaging in a program review for the CLE and SUSTech provides opportunities for TIRF’s leadership to gain a deep understanding of the university’s goals, its successes, and its challenges. By utilizing TIRF’s review team’s collective experience and knowledge, the Foundation has been able to provide unique and research-based insights for the university to utilize. In turn, TIRF is afforded an opportunity to influence English language education efforts on an international level.
Activities such as those shared in this Chair’s Report are a truly satisfying aspect of my work for the Foundation. I would like to recognize the efforts of everyone at SUSTech I have been working with over the past several weeks and thank them, as well as my review team. I look forward to performing additional reviews in the future for SUSTech and other institutions around the world.
Finally, to return to the questions I asked above, I continue to ponder how we should envision the language centers of the future. I am calling for the concerted efforts of all TIRF Board members, supporters, and friends to assist language centers around the world aspiring to meet challenges and become part of their institutions’ campus internationalization strategies. I understand that language centers in different parts of the world are facing various kinds of difficulties in the current climate. But a language center can be a driving force for its university, to help articulate its vision as part of the integral strategies of comprehensive internationalization of their institutions. TIRF, as exemplified in this review exercise of the CLE at SUSTech, has much to offer.
Jun Liu, TIRF President