Internationalisation through cross-border collaboration: Offshore master programme in Chinese Language Education – Interview with Professor Tse Shek Kam
The Master of Education (MEd) programme in Teaching and Learning Chinese Language is one of the two HKU programmes offered jointly with institutions outside Hong Kong that lead to a HKU degree. The MEd programme offers a specialist strand, Teaching and Learning Chinese Language (T&LCL), in collaboration with the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language (SCCL) of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) since January 2012.
The specialist strand is designed for in-service teachers, aspiring school middle-managers and curriculum coordinators, and related professionals in Singapore in the field of Chinese language education. Over the five years, the programme has enrolled 108 students of different nationalities mostly in Asia, for example, Singapore, Mainland China, Malaysia, Vietnam, and South Korea.
An informal interview was conducted with Prof. Tse Shek Kam, the programme coordinator from 2011 to 2016 as well as the key person who initiated the programme and made the connection between HKU and NTU.
Tracy: Internationalisation is one of the 3+1 I’s underpinning the University’s commitment to being Asia’s Global University. In what ways has the programme contributed to the theme of internationalisation?
Prof. Tse: Our programme has contributed to the internationalisation theme in a number of ways. The students enrolled in this programme have international backgrounds. Some of them come from China and possess substantial Singapore experiences. Students’ learning experiences are also international. They take courses in Singapore and Hong Kong. When they stay at Hong Kong during May and June, we bring them a holistic Hong Kong experience through various social activities. The experiences they have in Hong Kong are much more beyond course taking. The intended learning outcomes of the programme are international, too. We aim to develop global citizenship and leadership capabilities in our students so that they can take up leadership role in Chinese language education at anywhere in the world. Our curriculum framework is underpinned by world-leading research evidence. Finally, the collaboration between HKU and SCCL in NTU is another dimension under the internationalisation theme.
I believe that being international actually means being multilingual, multicultural, and perhaps multi-national. In this sense, having a programme overseas does not mean it is necessarily international; instead, creating a multilingual and multicultural learning environment is an essential condition of being international. That is why I can say that our programme is international in terms of students’ composition, their learning experiences, the learning outcomes, and the collaborative mechanism.
Tracy: What do you think attract students to this programme? What is the uniqueness of this programme compared to others in the market?
Prof. Tse: HKU has a good reputation but it is only one of the aspects. Students come to learn and gain a sense of belonging. Our programme emphasises identity development. Over the past five years, our students deeply value the learning experiences in Hong Kong and Singapore as they are situated in a community of learners. Another key feature of the programme is that it is built upon strong research evidence. We advance the knowledge in the field through research, which keeps us in the leading role. In addition, we also acknowledge the importance of tailoring the programme to suit the local needs of Singapore. Addressing local needs, to me, is also an important aspect of internationalisation.
Tracy: How would you describe the relationship with SCCL in NTU? Has working with an overseas partner been rewarding or challenging in some ways?
Prof. Tse: We certainly learned something valuable from our partner in Singapore. The kindergarten and primary curriculum in Singapore is reviewed every five years and changes are introduced in the sixth year. They have a shorter cycle and faster pace. They have been pioneering bilingual teaching and learning in classroom for years. We have got inspirations from working with our partner. On the other hand, we are better at pedagogical research. Working together is in the best interests of both of us. It is a win-win mentality, which is important for any collaborative relationships.
Tracy: Have you encountered any challenges and how did you tackle them?
Prof. Tse: One challenges was related to the multiple stakeholders involved in the programme. We need to fulfil HKU’s graduate requirements as well as those of SCCL and NTU. Furthermore, the Singapore government has its own rules and regulations for Master programmes. More attention needs to be paid to the quality assurance process. Of course, you might also say that the process ensures a high standard of quality.
Another challenge is about logistics. In principle, we must be strict about quality assurance but in terms of execution, flexibility is needed. We have different term times so we have to plan ahead and allow flexibility.
Tracy: How do you sustain the programme?
Prof. Tse: We need to have new elements in the curriculum and keep ourselves updated. Every year we have new graduates who will naturally bring the newest things they learned in the programme to their countries. Others can catch up quickly. We develop research to advance knowledge and pedagogy to keep ourselves in a leading position in the field.
Tracy: What is your advice on how to launch an offshore programme and how to make it sustainable?
Prof. Tse: The most important thing, also the key to sustain the programme, is the quality, including the quality in our teaching and learning approaches, the quality of the experiences we provide, and the quality of the content and the curriculum.
For the collaboration process, it is important to have a win-win mentality. In our case, both collaborating institutions benefit from the programme. We learned from each other and continuously enhanced our pedagogy in our local curriculum. We also created a multicultural learning environment for all students who can have solid experiences in both Singapore and Hong Kong. In fact, our graduates have two graduation ceremonies, one in each place, so that their experiences are complete and holistic.
Tracy: Are there any ‘secret ingredients’ that you feel important to the success of the programme?
Prof. Tse: Haha … one ‘secret ingredient’ I would say is that it could be tricky to identify a collaborative partner that is both committed and suitable. Collaboration can be costly so that both parties need to have a strong commitment to the subject. It is also worthwhile studying if the partners fit by looking at the actual work they have conducted.
In fact, HKU can be leaders in many subjects, beyond the field of Chinese language education. I think our programme may be a good example for others to take reference from. We are also exploring collaborative opportunities with universities in Europe and Mainland China. These universities need good teachers in Chinese language education and this is where we can add value.
This is the end of the interview. More information about the MEd programme in Teaching and Learning Chinese Language can be found here: http://web.edu.hku.hk/.