Sunday, January 10, 2010

Phillipson on Nottingham

One wonders how it can be that monolinguals are seen as experts in second language acquisition. I fear that this foundational principle is carried over into the export of English-medium universities worldwide. Thus the University of Nottingham’s subsidiaries – its campuses in Malaysia and at Ningbo, China - give the clear impression that what is being exported, even in degrees in such subjects as Education, English, Applied Linguistics, and Content and Language Integrated Learning, is not only the British English medium but also British content. The Ningbo website proclaims: ‘All undergraduate and postgraduate programmes …. are conducted entirely in English with the same teaching and evaluation standards as at the University of Nottingham, UK.’ Can this really be considered culturally, linguistically or pedagogically appropriate in Asia, with teachers either from Nottingham or controlled by Nottingham? If such campuses are a meeting-place for UK expertise and Asian needs and realities, is the interaction uni-directional, or open and reciprocal, and how is the project being implemented and perceived?
-Robert Phillipson, from "Disciplines of English and disciplining by English" in the Asian EFL Journal, Dec 2009.

Duly noted. As far as I know, of the 4 professors in the English Studies unit at Ningbo, only one is "monolingual" in the way Phillipson means, which seems like a good thing for sure; of the 50 or so tutors in the first-year EAP program, many are English monolinguals, but a fair number are not.

It's interesting to compare this setup to a place like Shantou University's English Language Centre, which has an equal number of "foreign" and "local" teachers and is set up so that both groups work together. That system seems more amenable to the "open and reciprocal" ideal Phillipson favors. Then again, I'm willing to bet a degree from Nottingham holds a lot more cache in China than a degree from Shantou does. I'm not arguing for or against anything here, I just think it's kind of interesting to see the different models for ELT or English-medium education that are emerging in China now. I'd love to learn about others as well, but these two are the ones I'm most familiar with.

Finally, the bold text above (my emphasis) is an example of why I can never get 100% on board with Phillipson, even when I agree with the general thrust of his arguments.