Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

Two Extra Objectives for International Colleges in Southeast Asia

Back in March, I posted ‘My Three Top Objectives for international Colleges in Southeast Asia’ [below]. I have now thought of 2 more:

4. ‘Internationality’. By this, I mean a fundamental commitment to internationalize. It is not sufficient, for example, to merely teach courses in an international language such as English, or to employ a few foreign teachers. All those involved in directing the administration of the college as well as those who teach and mentor the students should share some sense of an international vision. The college will surely have important elements of the local culture of the country in which it is situated — no doubt, that will constitute part of its appeal to international students, but at the same time it must strive to adhere to international standards and provide an education that is international rather than merely national in scope. A related need is for the provision of good career prospects for international faculty and administrators — they have to feel that it is worth their while to devote time and energy to the college, coming to ‘feel at home’ in a foreign country. This is perhaps more a sense of involvement and recognition than merely financial inducements. Again, there must be at least some amongst the support staff (secretaries, those responsible for student welfare, etc.) who speak the international language of the college fluently, and can act as adequate intermediaries between foreign students and faculty and the ‘host’ culture.

5. A recognition of and respect for quality. I hope this is not too vague a conception. In recent years, in universities around the world, there has developed a concern — some would say obsession — with devising quantitative measures for evaluating the university’s worth. This is related to the ideas of both quality assessment and international comparison (as in the various ranking metrics). I have no objection to quantification as such, but believe that quantitative measures by themselves are inadequate in assessing university quality. There is also the danger that a focus on quantitative measures leads administrators to the pursuit of short-term advantages in prestige and income, and correspondingly to neglect a long-term view and vision of the college’s future (e.g. major theoretical work in Physics and major books in History and the Social Sciences are discouraged because they do not add to the number of journal articles desired for ranking prestige). Again, we should recognize that there are different kinds of excellence — for example, a good international college is likely to need strong programmes for teaching English and remedial English, and expertise in teaching English is not likely to be measured by whether or not the instructor has a PhD or an impressive range of academic publications. In everything, the concepts of quality and excellence (however defined) must be at the centre of our thinking.

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My Three Top Objectives for International Colleges in Southeast Asia

[Posted 25 March 2014]

Having now spent almost 3 decades of my life helping to build up what I think is an excellent international college [MUIC], allow me to comment on what I think should be the 3 top educational objectives for international colleges in SE Asia. Note that I am leaving out other essential objectives which are supportive of these but are not in themselves uniquely educational (e.g. excellence in administration), or which are secondary to them (e.g. an excellent library).

1. Excellence in English. Although there are other foreign languages which it is useful for SE Asian students to learn, such as Chinese, Spanish and Indonesian, the effective world language at the present time is English. Particularly in countries like Thailand that do not have an English-speaking background, it is essential that all students be encouraged, pushed or pulled to achieve excellence in English. This is vital for their futures and will greatly enhance their employability in an increasingly globalized world. For the minority of students intent on gaining post-graduate degrees excellent English is essential. I am very pleased that my own College places great emphasis on this goal, having establishing both a strong English language department and a pre-College to help those students whose high school leaving level of English is weak. I am full of praise both for the teachers who devote themselves to this work and the many students who struggle and persevere to perfect their English. Over the years, I have met many hundreds of students whose initial English skills were limited but who made dramatic improvements through their own hard work. I always encourage my own students to carry on reading as much as they can so that their language skills continue to improve.

2. Academic excellence. All students need to strive towards academic excellence. Teachers can help them achieve this goal by providing stimulating and thought-provoking classes, setting reasonably difficult and demanding examinations and enforcing a very strict policy penalizing all forms of cheating and plagiarism.

3. Critical thinking. We all hope that our graduates will find stimulating and responsible jobs when they finish their studies. If they are to play their full part in contributing to the future development of their countries and the organizations and businesses they work for, they need to have developed the ability to think critically for themselves (I am reminded here of the words of the motto of the British Royal Society (est. 1662): Nullius in verba (Take nobody’s word for it)).

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2014 by in Education and tagged , .
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