5 October 2017

Two Environment Centre academics are splitting their time between the UK and China, bringing Lancaster University teaching to Chinese undergraduates

Dr Romain Guilbaud and Dr Xiaogang (John) Shi are teaching 58 students studying Environmental Science and Engineering at Lancaster University College, a partnership between Lancaster University and Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU).

The College is based on a new campus in Wehai, Shandong Province, 800 km from Beijing, near to where John was brought up.

“The students study for four years and then can get two degrees, one from BJTU and one from Lancaster, as long as they satisfy the requirements for both schools,” said John, who studies large scale hydrological responses to environmental change, particularly for cold regions like the Tibetan Plateau).

“Tuition fees and living costs are cheaper in China relative to the UK so it’s a more affordable way for Chinese students to get a British degree.”

It also offers benefits to the academics, who can focus exclusively on teaching while in Shandong, and on their research for the rest of the year.

Romain, a French geochemist, is an expert in the coevolution of life and the environment in the very deep past, billions of years ago. He has travelled to China for a scientific expedition before and hopes to do more field research there in the future.

“There are not many places in the world where you can find hundreds of millions to billion-year-old rocks, but you have a lot of them in China.”

The academics are based mainly in Lancaster and will travel to China twice a year for ten weeks a trip to spend time with the students, teaching and taking them on field trips. Teaching in China has particular challenges.

“One of the most difficult things is that Chinese students by background don’t ask questions, especially in classroom and during discussions,” said John. “So we have to use different ways to try to motivate them, to encourage them to be more actively involved with study.

“We split them into smaller groups, let them to watch videos and find areas of particular interest to the students, such as the Three Gorges Dams.

“The modules we teach are the same as we teach at Lancaster so we bring the Lancaster University experience to China but add a Chinese context, for example there are two field trips for the hydrology class.”

Both the Lancaster academics and their BJTU colleagues teach in english: during their first session in September, John taught a module on hydrology while Romain focused on the formation of the earth.

“We are always better teachers where we teach what we love,” said Romain.

The students have opportunities to visit Lancaster University during the summer semester and it is hoped to have more exchanges between the campuses in the future.