Beijing recognises need for English as WTO entry looms

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 12:00am

Mainland universities are to use English as a medium of instruction more commonly, in preparation for China's entry to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Vice-Minister of Education Wei Yu told mainland media this week that the Government was seeking to widen the use of English so that as much as 40 to 50 per cent of the curriculum in colleges and universities would be taught in the language.

Professor Wei hopes that by 2005 between 10 and 20 per cent of courses in well-established universities will be taught in English. Beijing and Qinghua Universities took the lead in using English textbooks carrying the latest knowledge on popular fields of studies such as management and information technology. Some other colleges in Beijing have also followed suit.

This month Qinghua appointed an American Academy of Engineering academic as dean of its newly-established faculty of industrial engineering. Original English textbooks are used at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in Qinghua, according to the Beijing Morning Daily.

The education ministry was also said to have asked colleges and universities to respond to the rising needs for bilingual professionals, particularly with China's imminent entry into the WTO.

But a recent report in the paper also said students were unwilling to buy the relatively pricey English books and that teachers generally lacked the ability to teach in the language.

China's latest move, however, was a step in the right direction, said Cheung Kwok-wah, associate dean of the Faculty of Education at University of Hong Kong. 'English is the common language in the international academic arena. Learning in the language allows students and teachers to communicate well with outside academics,' he said.

But he doubts whether there are enough teachers with sufficient ability to teach in the language and the extent to which English can be adopted in university teaching. He expects costs of texts to come down as more publishers set up operations in China.

He supports the use of English initially in science and management subjects. 'Studying humanities subjects will be more difficult as they require both language skills and understanding of Western traditions. It could be difficult for students brought up in the mainland to come to grips with the original conceptual thinking.'