Blog post

From historical legacies to gendered linguistics: the cultural richness of transnational education

Professor Keith McLay, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities & Education, and Professor Judith Lamie, Pro Vice-Chancellor - External Affairs, took part in an overseas visit to partners - old, new and prospective - in China and Hong Kong. In this first instalment of his two-part blog, Professor McLay writes about shared values and the importance of education as a universal language.

By Professor Keith McLay - 10 October 2018

Our travels began at Beihai University of Art & Design. On the journey out from the hotel to the University, our Beihai hosts took us to the former sites of the French, German and British Embassies. The connecting thread was the buildings' historical lineage: the oldest, the French embassy, was France's first building in China, constructed some 250 years ago; the German embassy dated from 15 years after the founding of the modern German state by Bismark in 1871; while the British embassy - now a museum - also dates from the 19th century. It was only during the President of Beihai University, Zheng Chao's, welcome speech that it become clear our earlier tour of embassy sites was by design.

In a wide-ranging oration covering historical legacies, imperialism (by the West and East), and contemporary international travel, President Chao made the fair point that the past has had a habit of constraining and undermining modern communication between countries and cultures; for President Chao, transnational education, student exchange and global university collaboration offer the opportunity to break with the past and forge a new openness in relations and dialogue between nations and peoples. Heady stuff for a Monday morning and after a 30-hour journey, perhaps, but beneath the rhetorical flourish there was a sincerity supported by the values of Beihai University which clearly chime with those of the University of Derby.

Shared values and ambitions

One hundred yards in from the front gate of Beihai University stands an imposing stone inscribed with the Chinese Character for 'Morality'. It was explained that 'Morality' is the University motto representing its pedagogic spirit, which is in turn released by the critical study of the creative arts.

So too at the University of Derby our values - 'Boldness', 'Brilliance', 'People', and 'Future Focus' - within the new Strategic Framework vouchsafe an education which is principled and founded on criticality. The possible synergies between our two institutions didn't stop there, however.

On touring the teaching and research accommodation, and on being treated to workshops of students undertaking Illustration and Dance degrees, the reflective practice and applied context of Beihai's curricula was apparent. For Derby, as an 'Applied University of Today and for Tomorrow', here was a potential Chinese partner with similar ambitions to our own. The University President was clearly on to something in his welcome speech.

The warmth and engagement from around 500 students and staff which greeted Professor Lamie's presentation on the University of Derby only served further to underline President Chao's firmness on openness in communication which transcends linguistic boundaries and offers a route to cross-cultural inquisitiveness.

Education as a universal language for collaboration

This discussion on education as a universal language for collaboration and cultural enrichment was continued over lunch, but then took an unexpected turn. Warming to his theme and audience, President Chao digressed on to the esoteric - for this historian author at least - subject of the gendered etymology of Chinese Characters, which left the translators scrabbling for words but mercifully not the Professor of Applied Linguistics in the party; Professor Lamie, by contesting the President's analysis, duly steered him back to transnational education and the next steps for the partnership between Derby and Beihai.

On reflection, one couldn't help but conclude that in the famed traditions of Chinese diplomacy through the ages, there was a relatively elaborate staged structure to our visit to reach a particular end; but it was no worse for that.

As the brief discussion with the Major of Beihai at the following morning's 10,000-strong Opening Ceremony for the university year illustrated, the University of Derby is gaining an international presence and resonance which has the potential to offer our students all those manifest benefits and experiences President Chao outlined in his welcome speech.

Read the second instalment of Professor McLay's blog, Distinctiveness in a crowded field: University of Derby in Hong Kong.

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About the author

Keith McLay

Professor Keith McLay
Provost - Learning and Teaching

Professor Keith McLay is the Provost for Learning and Teaching.

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