Professor Youmin Xi on the benefits of internationalised education

26 Jun 2017

Professor Youmin Xi, executive president of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, delivered a speech entitled ‘A Model for Sino-Foreign Cooperative Education’ at Oxford University in the UK.

He gave interviews to local British media in both Oxford and Liverpool, who expressed strong interest in the achievements of XJTLU.

As a guest of the Forum for Cooperation on Sino-British Education Professor Xi also provided an introduction to the unique endeavors and innovations of XJTLU to participants.

(Left to right: Professor William James, Professor Youmin Xi, Sir Professor Drummond Bone, Dr Sung Hee Kim, Professor Denis Noble)

In recent years, China has seen a growing demand for and interest in international education. Many institutions of higher learning in the West have also looked into Sino-foreign cooperation, seeking both to expand their global influence and respond to the demands of the Chinese market.

We asked Professor Xi about his views on the unique characteristics of internationalised education, XJTLU’s competitiveness both globally and within China, as well as its future endeavors in joint education.

XJTLU reporter: Considering each XJTLU student’s unique talents and background, and from the highly impressive academic records of its graduates, many are amazed that a university can achieve so much in a mere four years, developing a student with an average performance on his/her higher education extrance exam ('Gaokao') into an outstanding world citizen. What is the secret?

Professor Xi: I was asked by a person on the streets of Oxford if I was indeed President Xi Youmin. This was an XJTLU graduate, pursuing his PhD at Oxford University. I actually think this kind of encounter is becoming more and more common in the UK.

During my second day at the conference, another young person approached me, saying “I am an XJTLU alumnus, and I am now at Oxford doing my PhD in bioengineering.” He is close to graduating, and has also taken the role of vice chairman of the Chinese Students’ Association at Oxford.

Increasingly, we see that more XJTLU students are not only performing well at the university, but are also embarking on stellar careers. These students are not only proud of their achievements but are also greatly satisfied with the opportunities XJTLU’s unique model of international education has provided them.

XJTLU is unique even among international education institutions. Most of our courses do not merely focus on transferring knowledge. In the past, there were few channels for acquiring knowledge, and what we knew was limited, and so it was natural for us all to engage in the pursuit of knowledge. Now, however, we can gain knowledge from anywhere.

So, universities need to make a transition. In these times of abundant information, the focus must be on teaching students how to use the knowledge available to them, and to view this from a global perspective. This is the measure of a strong university.

For this reason, we tell our students and their parents right from the start that the university is not merely a place for acquiring knowledge, but also a place to experience personal growth through gaining knowledge. On this basis, we believe any healthy, intelligent student can reach their full potential and succeed in his or her career.

‘Success,’ in our view, is to do what you love and be excellent at it. We believe that every person has this potential. So, the success of XJTLU comes in part from our efforts to help each student realise his or her full potential. We see each student as a unique individual, and in this light we seek to create an environment for each student to fully explore his or her own interests and unlock his or her potential.

This, I think, is a truly ‘student-centred’ approach. It is not simply obtaining a certificate or scoring high on a test. That is quite meaningless. What’s more important is: Have you grown? Has your capacity been enhanced? Can you contribute to society?

XJTLU has a number of approaches to help students succeed: we seek to help students transform from adolescents to adults, and from adults to world citizens. We help them grow from passive learners to active learners to transformative learners. We help them to take full control of their lives rather than ‘blindly studying’.

At XJTLU, we see students as youthful adults, helping them transform their study habits, seek out their own interests and develop and pursue their own dreams. This has always been our approach.

As you say, the approach of XJTLU’s education system is to help students unleash their potential and achieve growth and true success. In your view, what would you consider XJTLU’s competitive advantages in the world of international education?

Professor Xi: One main aspect of this is how we help our students in both their lives and careers. If you compare our students with other college students in China, you can see a number of advantages that XJTLU students enjoy.

One is their strong English fluency. After being immersed in an all English educational environment for four years as undergraduates—or six years or more if they go on to graduate school—XJTLU students have considerable advantage over students at other Chinese universities.

Moreover, XJTLU students leave university with well-rounded knowledge and capacities. As we see students as youthful adults, we provide them with considerable space and opportunities, allowing them to approach challenges on their own and to pace their own studies.

This kind of well-rounded ability has not traditionally been emphasised by most Chinese universities, and thus Chinese university students tend to be weaker than international students in this regard. These two advantages make our students more competitive than most Chinese university students in both their future studies and careers.

Our students in fact should have these two advantages over non-XJTLU international students. We know that Chinese students have, in the past, been weaker than Western students both in English and in well-roundedness. Through training at XJTLU, students can reach a level matching other students worldwide. Even if their native language is not English, they can still compete on the same stage with native-English speakers.

On the other hand, XJTLU students have their own distinct advantages: they are hard-working, and have strong foundations. Even if we know of the pitfalls of Chinese test-based education, students still come out with a strong foundation of knowledge. XJTLU places some focus on solidifying this foundation. Thus, whether they stay in China or enter the world stage, they have two major competitive advantages over both Chinese and international students.

This is all based on our model. So is it borne out in reality? The Institute of Leadership and Education Advanced Development (ILEAD) at XJTLU has actually conducted some research, which corroborates the strong performance of XJTLU students.

For instance, among a sample of over 50 Chinese students pursuing graduate degrees at top universities in the UK, half XJTLU graduates, the other half coming from the top one hundred universities in China, XJTLU students performed higher in innovation, critical thinking, information absorption and self-motivated research.

Why? Because of the training I just mentioned that they received at XJTLU as undergraduates, which manifests itself in their graduate studies. The research conducted shows that XJTLU students excel in knowledge absorption, research capacity, conduct, and research methodology.

This year, XJTLU will see off its 8th cohort of graduates, adding to our more than 10,000 graduates. Over the past several years, from the student I met at Oxford to the positive reception XJTLU students receive from employers, we can see that XJTLU has made great practical achievements, and also demonstrated the competitive advantages I mentioned earlier. This is testimony to the growth that our students experience while at XJTLU.

editor: Danny Abbasi

26 Jun 2017