English for Academic Purposes (EAP), which prepares learners for academic studies through the medium of English in countries, has currently become a subject of immense pedagogic interest in many countries and areas where English is taught as a foreign language (EFL). Teaching EFL to non-English major students at tertiary level in mainland China is known as College English Teaching (CET). Since 1978, when reforms in the higher education system were implemented after the Cultural Revolution (from 1966 to 1977), CET has been oriented towards English for general purposes (EGP) (
Teaching objectives of CET documents between 1980 and 2015
|CETS (1985)||CET aims to develop students’ relatively stronger ability of reading with better linguistic foundations and higher language proficiency so that they are able to use English as a tool to access information needed in their disciplinary studies.|
|CETS (1999)||CET aims to help students to lay solid linguistic foundations and improve their cultural literacy as well as achieving a relatively high level of five micro skills of reading, listening, speaking, writing, and translating so that they can meet socioeconomic needs.|
|CECR (2007)||CET is to develop students’ ability to use English in a well-rounded way, especially their listening and speaking ability so that in their future studies and careers as well as social interactions they will be able to communicate effectively and show good cultural literacy.|
|CETG (2015)||CET aims to develop students’ English proficiency and their cross-cultural and communicative ability so that they will be effective users of English in their studies, daily life, social interaction, and future careers to suit the needs of the nation, society, institutional, and personal development.|
* These are the documents issued by MOE as follows:
CETS College English Teaching Syllabus
CECR College English Curriculum Requirements
CETG College English Teaching Guide
Forty-two years of implementing EGP and test-oriented CET since 1978 has produced a generation of young Chinese scientists and engineers who are neither able to extract information from their disciplinary literature in English nor capable of effectively communicating their research in international journals and conferences (Cai, 2017). Although the number of Chinese research papers published in Science Citation Index (SCI) journals has increased tremendously in recent years (Nature Publishing Group, 2015), they ‘lag behind the world average in normalized citation impact’ (p. 4); one of the major reasons for this is lack of critical training in academic writing ‘in undergraduate education in China’ (p. 16).
There was no possibility, however, of changing test-oriented language teaching until the beginning of the century when the MOE actively promoted English-medium instruction (EMI) in response to the demands of the internationalization of higher education. The MOE (2001, see Cai, 2006) requires that all disciplines should increase their number of bilingual and EMI courses to 5 to 10% within three years, and that CET should aim at improving undergraduates’ English proficiency so that they can use English in their disciplinary studies and work. Against this background, I suggested that EMI could not be implemented effectively without a paradigm shift from EGP to EAP in college English programmes (Cai, 2004). However, the suggestion came under attack from the circle of English-language teaching until 2012 when I was appointed as chair of the Shanghai Advisory Committee on CET (SHACCET), a quasi-government organization affiliated with the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (SHMEC). I made the best of the opportunity and initiated EAP implementation in Shanghai tertiary institutions with the support of the SHMEC which thus constituted the maiden voyage of EAP instruction in mainland China.
In 2013, twenty-six universities and colleges (five national high-level, seventeen second-tiered and four local colleges whose freshmen had much lower scores in the national tertiary entrance examinations than those of the first two types) responded to the reform by re-conceptualizing and redesigning their ELT curriculums according to the SHACCET’s arrangement. The present study aims to use Shanghai as a case study to report on the seven-year paradigm shift taking place in the twenty-six tertiary institutions because Shanghai was the first city in mainland China to initiate EAP instruction collectively. The research questions are as follows:
How do Shanghai tertiary institutions implement the paradigm shift from EGP to EAP?
What factors hinder and constrain the implementation?
What strategies are adopted to negotiate the challenges?
After a review of previous analogous studies and the delineation of the methodology used in the present study, I will present and discuss a number of findings that highlight the barriers to the promotion of the EAP initiative and the indigenized strategies adopted to facilitate the reform.
Numerous studies indicate that the realities of local English-language education, especially in non-English-dominant settings, necessitate the adaption of Western pedagogies to avoid ‘fomenting ideological clashes’ (Casanave, 2009, p. 256; Leki, 2001; Tudor, 2003; Van Lier, 2002). For example, the student-centred and process writing approach might not be applied wholesale to EFL contexts where large, teacher-fronted, product-oriented classes are popular (Hu, 2002; Pennington et al., 1996; You, 2004). By the same token, when EAP is transferred from second-language contexts to foreign-language contexts it tends to encounter various tensions and subsequently yields to its localization. Liyanage and Walker (2014) point out that those who advocate Western EAP practices tend to make local EAP teachers quite uneasy. Canagarajah (2014) also notes some significant dilemmas in EAP teaching in Asian tertiary institutions because of serious philosophical and communicative differences.
Among major controversial issues concerning the introduction of Western EAP pedagogies is the narrow vs wide-angle approaches. A wide-angled approach or English for general academic purposes (EGAP) refers to ‘the teaching of the skills and language that are common to all disciplines’ and a narrow-angled approach or English for specific academic purposes (ESAP) means ‘the teaching of the features that distinguish one discipline from others’ (Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998, p. 41). It seems that numerous Western EAP scholars argue for the narrow approach (Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001; Hyland, 2002; Nesi & Gardner, 2012), insisting that mastering discipline-specific genres is a basic requirement for students to ‘understand and engage with their disciplines’ (Hyland, 2016, p. 21). Literature regarding EAP in Asia however, especially in EFL contexts, indicates that many Asian universities seem to embrace a wide-angle approach, at least in the beginning stage (Anthony, 2011; Tsou, 2009).
There is a dearth of documentation in the literature, however, as to the full-scale implementation of EAP in dozens of different levels of tertiary institutions where the majority of undergraduates’ content courses are offered in the vernacular. Thus, the study analysed here might fill the gap by reporting a paradigm shift from EGP to EAP taking place simultaneously in almost all Shanghai universities and colleges where the undergraduates had no immediate need for EAP skills and language teachers have long been accustomed to test-oriented EGP teaching. Examining the process of the reform might be significant for EAP development in other non-anglophone academic settings. It may be suggested that if EAP can be enacted successfully in Shanghai, the localized strategies and methods adopted in the reform might be potentially applicable in similar settings.
The study collected the data from documents and interviews as it is a retrospective case study of some critical events which have already occurred (Street & Ward, 2010). During the seven-year reform, Shanghai EAP implementation has been widely reported in many Chinese foreign-language teaching journals and books. Numerous meetings and conferences held by the SHACCET on the discussion of the Shanghai EAP reform have also produced many bulletins and documents which are being circulated in the China CET community. All these reports and documents provide a valuable source of literature data. To supplement the published documents, face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted to provide an additional source of data. The participants were sampled by clusters from twenty-six Shanghai tertiary institutions who have been engaged in EAP reforms. The demographic information is presented in
Demographics of the participants (teachers, leaders, and students)
|Group (n)||Affiliation type (n)||Experience of EAP activities|
|EAP students (8)||National universities (4)||All participated in different kinds of student EAP activities both on and off campuses.|
|Local universities (3)|
|Local colleges (1)|
|EAP teachers (12)||National universities (3)||All attended various EAP workshops and EAP training activities held by SHACCET.|
|Local universities (7)|
|Local colleges (2)|
|EAT programme leaders (16)||National universities (3)||They are in charge of the institutional EAP implementation.|
|Local universities (11)|
|Local colleges (2)|
The interview was mainly conducted individually in Chinese by the researcher before or after various EAP events which were organized by SHACCET and the China EAP Association. The questions mainly elicited 1) their perception of the paradigm shift and 2) their opinion of the strategies adopted in the promotion of EAP. I agree with what Stevic (1989, p. 12) says ‘although I tried very hard not to lead the interviewees, they still may have been telling me what they thought’. I deliberately chose EAP programme leaders because they were in a unique position to know the problems and barriers they have encountered as well as the benefits they have reaped. Hence, they may provide information which they have not published or dare not say in the publications.
The interviews were transcribed and email exchanges were used to confirm the accuracy of my interpretation whenever inconsistency or ambiguity arose. Data was analysed thematically according to the research questions. First, an initial broad set of categories was established based on an iterative reading of the interview data. Then, a comparative analysis was made between the different data sources. Three major themes finally emerged from the data analysis: hindrances, negotiation, and strategies. In the citations from the interview data, the coding begins with the participants’ pseudonyms based on the purposes of the study (T stands for teachers, L for leaders, and S for students).
Results and discussion
Hindrances to EAP reform in Shanghai and the underlying reasons
The EAP initiative in Shanghai, representing a departure from traditional CET, triggered a fierce nationwide controversy as well as fierce local objection. The major counterarguments of the policy makers in national CET circles are summarized as follows:
EAP does not suit Chinese contexts where content courses in the majority of universities and colleges are in the vernacular. Hence, the implementation of EAP instruction is neither urgent nor necessary as there is no need at all (Wang, 2013; Hu & Xie, 2014).
Most English-language instructors in mainland China are unqualified to teach EAP courses which require them to have content knowledge and expertise of the target disciplines (Yang & Sun, 2013).
EAP materials are usually science-and-technology oriented and their subject matter is boring compared with extracts from literature works written by renowned English native speakers, full of idiomatic and elegant expressions. EAP will not benefit Chinese students who are accustomed to learning a language by text memorization (Hu & Xie, 2014).
Most Chinese undergraduates, especially freshmen, have a low English-language proficiency and what they need is basic grammatical knowledge and the four macro skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. EAP is too hard for them (Hu & Xie, 2014).
A student with good general English proficiency will have no difficulty communicating in academic and work settings since there is no big difference between EAP and EGP except terminologies and passive constructions (Hu & Xie, 2014).
EAP only highlights the language instrumentality while CET programmes are part of humanistic education, aiming to develop broad cultural competencies with global perspectives and cross-cultural awareness (Hu & Xie, 2014; Wang & Yao, 2013; Wen, 2014).
EAP is more appropriate as a complement rather than as a substitute for EGP because 1) it is necessary for freshmen of low English proficiency to continue consolidating their foundation in English and 2) EGP highlights the cultivation of one’s encyclopaedic knowledge which EAP lacks (Wen, 2014).
CET should best address individualized needs as there is a more linguistically and disciplinarily diverse student population with different academic or professional purposes upon graduation. Therefore, EGP and EAP should co-exist in CET programmes (Wang, 2015; Wen, 2014).
The China CET community’s perceptions of EAP can be first attributed to their understanding of the nature of foreign-language education as ‘a humanistic education’. CETS, CECR and CETG all stipulate that ‘CET is a programme which not only helps improve students’ English proficiency but helps them gain a better understanding of world cultures through a humanistic education’ (MOE, 1999, p. 2; MOE, 2007, p. 2). The perception of foreign-language education actually denies the validity of EAP implementation which is discipline-specific.
Secondly, the majority of deans in English colleges or departments are reluctant to embrace EAP instruction which conflicts with the backgrounds and research interests of American/English literature or linguistics. It is the research of literature and linguistics rather than language teaching that contributes to their competitiveness in the ranking of their disciplines. Many of them believe that teaching subject-specific skills will corrode the disciplinary development of American/English literature or linguistics and run the risk of failing to pass the annual MOE disciplinary assessment.
Thirdly, this belief is also popular among language teachers. Trained in linguistics or literature studies, they naturally prefer teaching general English for which accurate pronunciation and a solid grammatical knowledge is sufficient so that they can spare time on their own research interests. ‘Most teachers believe that ESAP will place a great burden on them as they need to take time to be familiar with the target disciplines’ (T6). Hence, perceiving multiple tensions when turning to the new orientation, many language teachers believe that ESAP will do a great disservice to their research and academic career.
Fourthly, the attitude to EAP also reflects the general feeling of hostility towards EMI courses among many Chinese scholars. Hu (2002) and Ma (2006), two well-known scholars working Renmin University of China and Nankai University respectively suggest that EMI or bilingual instruction should be forbidden in Chinese tertiary education, as national sovereignty and safety are involved and it is illegal according to the present Education Law of the People’s Republic of China.
Fifthly, the promotion of EAP instruction may negatively affect the interest of CET publishers and editors of CET textbooks (the majority of whom are from policymakers in English-language teaching circles). Given the impact of EAP practice targeting the students who have used their EGP textbooks, their indifference and objection could be easily justified. As one teacher explained:
Are the publishers and editors willing to see the growth of EAP when the current EGP textbooks are widely used by thousands of universities and colleges? No English scholars will show interest in EAP textbooks, especially discipline-specific ESP textbooks which have very limited readership. (T3)
Finally, the CET circle tends to make policies from the perspective of second-language acquisition theories and the needs analysis of students instead of needs analysis of subject departments and the market. For example, the design of CETG is chiefly based on the learners’ disparity in terms of English proficiency, the purpose of learning, motivation, and personality. They emphasize language learning as an incremental process, believing that it is impossible to handle the complexities of academic discourse before students have a solid foundation of English proficiency.
Necessity of negotiating the tension surrounding reform
Confronted with the overwhelming opposition from CET circles, it seems necessary to negotiate the challenges; for example, by adopting a wide-angled EAP approach first. In the general-specific debate, more international scholars argue for the narrow-angled approach because of disciplinary variations and the necessity for students to complete discipline-specific assignments. An effective implementation of EAP instruction, however, must take the local academic settings and pedagogical constraints into account.
The implementation of ESAP lacks an appropriate setting which matches its purposes. In anglophone countries or even Hong Kong, English is the medium of university instruction and hence students’ needs of EAP skills are immediate and the requirement is compulsory. In contrast, undergraduates in the mainland Chinese context do not see immediate needs for EAP skills as their content courses are mostly offered in Chinese. ‘This results in my students’ unwillingness to take EAP courses. Many of them find EAP courses are not only practically valueless but also more linguistically demanding’ (L7). ‘The only utility value for the majority of undergraduates, if any, is to prepare for TOEFL or IELTS tests’ (T2). In such circumstances, a narrow-angled approach might not be sensibly applied immediately to all undergraduates.
There is a general misconception in China that EAP is synonymous with Zhuanye English (subject-oriented English). Both language experts and subject specialists believe that EAP is beyond the ability of language instructors. Even the heads of specialist departments claim that ESAP courses should be left to subject specialists and that specialist language features, self-evident, could be automatically acquired in reading disciplinary texts. Obviously, insisting on the discipline-specific approach might place potential EAP teachers in a dilemma: ‘Language teachers either need a good knowledge of the target disciplines or will give up on EAP instruction altogether’ (L2).
There is no administrative system for the collaboration between language instructors and subject specialists. Although Dudley-Evans & St John (1998, p. 42) suggest ‘cooperation with the actual subject department’, it seems that the suggestion might not work in the Chinese context where ‘subject specialists are mostly reluctant to offer their expertise without the reduction of their workloads or funding support which will not be committed by their departments’ (L11). In other words, such collaboration will not last on a voluntary basis.
Management of the CET centres in universities are unwilling to commit to ESAP programmes. Short of language faculty members, they would prefer a centralized, department-wide EGAP programme which allows a single language teacher to teach students of different disciplines and for the teaching resources such as materials and evaluations to be efficiently used by all teachers. In contrast, ‘a decentralized ESAP programme requires far more teachers as it needs to address tens of faculties and even hundreds of departments’ (L11). Even more concerning, the decentralized ESAP programme will put CET centres in danger of disintegration as good ESAP teachers might be employed by the specialist department where there is an urgent need for EMI course teachers.
These contextual constraints underpin the fact that to adopt the narrow-angled approach in the beginning is not sensible. It will only invite more criticism and discourage potential EAP practitioners. On the contrary, a wide-angled approach might enjoy higher acceptance among both students and language instructors. Firstly, the general topics of teaching materials are more appropriate to the freshmen with comparatively low English proficiency than the samples of genres of a discipline which will inevitably involve more specialized vocabulary and contents, ‘a great challenge to language instructors as well as to students’ (L13). Secondly, generic academic skills (such as literature reading skills and citation skills) and critical thinking skills are more important than knowledge itself in today’s new knowledge economy (Dovey, 2006). In mainland China, around 40% of Chinese undergraduates do not work in the field related to their disciplines upon graduation and 34% change their jobs within half a year (Wang, 2012). When the future career is unpredictable, transferable academic skills might help students adapt to any new professional situations (Krzanowski, 1999). Thirdly, EGAP can be offered in a large-sized class composed of a heterogeneous group of learners from multiple disciplines. There has been a massive expansion in the number of students participating in higher education in the last two decades. The result is that classes are extremely large, each comprising of more than sixty students on average from diverse academic backgrounds (Wu, 2004). It seems that the narrow-angled approach might not be effective in such mixed-discipline and large-sized classes. Finally, with the proliferation of double majors and joint degrees in China, EGAP can be well situated in addressing students’ needs in multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary studies and research which are increasingly encouraged in academic fields (Feak, 2011).
Strategies adopted in EAP implementation in Shanghai
Target situation analysis
Needs analysis (NA) conducted in CET in the past forty-two years is characterized by two unique features. Firstly, NA has been limited to students’ desires only. Wang (2015), who was responsible for the design of the latest versions of CECR/CETG, insisted that CET should address the idiosyncratic learning needs of students because of the varying levels of their English proficiency and different motivations for learning English. Hence, the courses prescribed in the national CET syllabus and offered in almost all local ELT curriculums are as numerous and diverse as possible, ranging from basic reading, listening, and preparation for CET tests to American culture and literature. Secondly, traditional NA has focused on the gap between the university entrants’ proficiency and the requirements of CET-4 instead of on target situation analysis. For example, the present vocabulary requirement of CET-4 (4,700 words) is based on the gap between the size of vocabulary of the entrants (2,300 words) and the maximum of 2,400 additional words that they can master in the sixteen credit-bearing ELT curriculum (MOE, 1999).
Therefore, replacing learner-centred NA with target situation analysis (TSA) is the key to initiating the paradigm shift from EGP to EAP. Grounded in the identification of the specific sets of skills and communicative practices of students’ disciplinary studies, a large-scale TSA was conducted by SACCET among 3,254 junior and senior students (who have finished the CET programme) and 202 subject specialists in Shanghai tertiary institutions in December 2012 (Cai and Chen, 2013). The result revealed that, although EMI was not popular, 63.4% of students and 63.8% of subject instructors placed the emphasis on conference presentation skills; 78.1% and 90.1% respectively on the skills of reading discipline-related literature; and 65.8% and 75.2% respectively on the skills of writing conference abstracts and even research articles. Due to the recent priority of the government of basic research and undergraduates’ easy access to national key laboratories, there is an increasing popularity for undergraduates, especially science students, to attempt to publish their research articles in SCI journals (Cai, 2017). An investigation of the undergraduate programmes of more than twenty hard and soft disciplines (the programmes designed by the MOE) also demonstrates that specialist departments need their students to communicate in international contexts in terms of information access in the discipline-related literature and research exchange (Cai, 2012). Obviously, all stakeholders feel an urgent need to accommodate CET within the requirements of disciplinary studies.
Based on both NA and TSA, we designed A framework of reference for CET in Shanghai (SHACCET, 2013). The framework calls for a more prominent place for EAP in local CET curriculums by setting a new objective of CET as ‘to equip students with English language skills to enable them to succeed in their academic studies and future careers’ (p. 2), and defines EAP as a transition from EGP instruction at secondary school to English-medium activities in the academy, or a bridge between the two. According to the framework, EGAP will take up more academic credits as it can both develop generic communication skills in academic studies and continue to consolidate students’ English proficiency which is underscored by the traditional CET syllabus. Fully aware of the role that genre-based ESAP plays in teaching discipline-specific communication skills to help students gain socialization into their respective discourse communities; the designers suggest that discipline-related ESAP should be especially implemented in colleges (or subject departments) of science and technology, medicine, law, and agriculture, etc. The framework suggests that except for students with a relatively low English level who are advised to take the elective remedial foundation EGP courses, the majority of freshmen in each new cohort should immediately begin EGAP courses and then gradually move onto ESAP courses according to the discipline’s requirements. The EAP Competence Scale for Undergraduates and Framework for EAP Teacher Development are also deliberately designed and included in the framework for the sake of novice EAP practitioners (Cai, 2017).
A top-down policy
In a centralized system of tertiary education, it seems impossible to replace the national CET syllabus adopted uniformly in almost all local colleges and universities with an EAP-focused curriculum without government intervention. Past experiences suggest that the success of an educational reform tends to depend on the administrative force to overcome potential obstacles and ensure the implementation of innovation (Markee, 1997). It is crucial, therefore, to persuade the Shanghai government to take sides with EAP by issuing a mandate if the framework is to be accepted by Shanghai tertiary institutions. As Shanghai is constructing an international hub of finance, commerce, technology, and transportation by 2020, SHMEC readily embraced the concept of EAP, recognizing that its implementation will help to produce university graduates who have stronger competitiveness in the global marketplace and future professionals that the Shanghai government urgently need to realize their ambitious plan. The framework was immediately released as an official government document (SHACCET, 2013) which ‘dictates’ that all Shanghai tertiary institutions implement EAP. Although some took a more conservative wait-and-see position and others even bitterly resented and resisted the reform, the majority of universities and colleges began to provide EAP instruction in their CET programmes, willingly or unwillingly. I noted that the reform in the past six years witnessed many setbacks: some universities tried to limit the EAP experiment to one or two specialist departments, some taught EGP in the name of EAP courses, some returned to the traditional EGP oriented curriculum when the leaders of foreign-language departments left office (Cai, 2019). Moreover, some even wrote anonymous letters to the Shanghai government accusing the reform initiators of having a vested interest.
EAP teacher development
EAP practitioners’ perceptions of EAP are of extreme importance, in addition to government and institutional support. Subsequent to the issuing of the framework, therefore, is the training of potential EAP instructors who lack both EAP theories and teaching experience. SACCET has designed a series of training programmes for novice EAP instructors: 1) holding EAP conferences and workshops annually, inviting international ESP scholars and experienced instructors to deliver lectures and offer in-service training courses; 2) organizing EAP demonstration classes so that novice EAP instructors can share teaching experiences with each other; 3) funding EAP research projects and overseas studies for EAP practitioners; 4) running contests for designing local EAP course syllabuses; and 5) organizing annual teacher workshops for teaching students to write research articles for international publication. The results are quite positive. There is an increasing appreciation of EAP in both Shanghai and across the nation. One of the participants of the EAP workshops said in the interview:
When I first heard of EAP, I naturally associated it with Zhuanye English, the American trainer dispelled my fear that language teachers could not teach it. Now I know that the word ‘academic’ doesn’t have the same connotation as its Chinese equivalent (xueshu) which refers to disciplinary study and research. But it simply means tertiary education. (T10)
They have gained the confidence in teaching EAP and realized that the EAP enterprise will not only help students develop academic language skills which are useful in their disciplinary studies but also help save themselves being marginalized as teaching grammar and vocabulary only. (Zhu, 2015)
Localized EAP materials
Textbooks in CET history often function as a guide as well as a resource book for English instructors who lack interest in the study of CET syllabi or curriculums. While the majority of novice EAP teachers have no idea of EAP, writing local EAP materials is critical to the implementation of the framework. To take account of students who have low English proficiency and English teachers who have little knowledge of EAP, we try to incorporate EAP concepts and skills into EGP textbooks. For example, we: 1) choose extracts from journals and books from a wide range of disciplines but with topics of global issues (like radiation, breastfeeding and genetically modified foods); 2) design skill-centred authentic exercises to train students’ academic skills such as taking notes from lectures, skimming and scanning texts for information, and writing academic essays with the integration of such research skills as citations, plagiarism-avoidance, paraphrasing, summarizing, and synthesizing; and 3) design project/research-based tasks around the topic of each unit to encourage students to do research work. The projects are broadly relevant to the students’ areas of study and require students to group themselves into two fields: science/engineering and social science/humanities. In writing discipline-specific materials, we suggest that authentic texts from typical genres are selected, but also insist that language skills should be taught to equip the learners with the ability to communicate in the activities of their target disciplines.
Project/research-based student forums and conferences
One of the biggest pedagogical challenges in promoting EAP in China is that students lack motivation to take EAP courses. EAP was originally defined as ‘developing study skills’ in English-speaking academic contexts (Candlin et al., 1975). Lack of an EMI environment, however, discourages university students from learning EMI-oriented study skills. On the other hand, there is an increasing interest even among undergraduates in writing and publishing their own research articles. Since 2010, when Chinese universities aimed to enter the competitive local and global league tables such as those produced by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, publishing research articles in SCI/SSCI journals in many universities means high-paying scholarships and postgraduate programmes. To address these needs, many Shanghai universities have initiated project/research-based instruction in EAP classes where genre-based and publication-oriented research skills enjoy more popularity. It is believed that teaching research skills can not only satisfy the students’ research needs, but also motivate them to learn study skills. Teaching study skills alone will not naturally lead to the learning of research skills.
Project/research-based instruction, initially class-based, has gradually been developed into discipline-based forums such as the student forums on medicine, finance, and engineering; the forums which have been organized on many campuses in Shanghai in recent years. Since 2015, the Shanghai International Collegiate Conference (SICC) has been held annually where undergraduates from home and abroad present their papers on such themes as environment and sustainability, challenges of urbanization, zero carbon and zero poverty, and innovation and sustainability. In 2019, SICC venues have expanded into seventeen provinces according to demand where local university students could attend the conference without travelling to Shanghai and thus, the number of participants exceeded more than 10,000.
Parallel to the student conference is the China First 5 Minute Research Presentation (5MRP) competition across the nation where university student contestants are required to present their research in the form of video clips (which could be a published research article, an unfinished research paper, or simply a research proposal) to an audience without discipline-specific background. In both events, students’ papers, when submitted or presented, are especially required to include IMRD (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion) elements. During the process, students collect data by conducting experiments, questionnaires, or interviews under their teachers’ guidance.
Students, as well as their instructors, benefit linguistically and academically from participating in this event. A teacher responsible for the EAP experimentation of a local college expressed this opinion:
I doubted that my students had the ability of writing a conference paper at first. But I am surprised that the papers they submitted are much longer than the requirement and finally seven papers were accepted by the 1st Shanghai International Collegiate Conference. The event stimulates my students’ great interest in taking EAP courses (L8).
Students, especially, speak highly of the conference. One interviewee said:
The process of writing and presenting papers in the conferences not only rekindles us students’ enthusiasm for learning English, but develops our confidence in and skills of writing research articles for international submission. One of my fellow year-three students published two articles in his SCI journals in 2016. (S7)
Development of EAP standardized tests and national competitions
Given that Chinese students and their teachers have been accustomed to test-driven learning and teaching, we developed and implemented the Test of English for Academic Purposes (TEAP) in 2015 to encourage pedagogical washback effects. The test is composed of four sections. In addition to the reading and listening sections, it features writing skills. Three or four abstracts of the same general topic from scientific journals are provided in this section. Test takers are required to read them and then write a short essay to complete two tasks: 1) to synthesize the information from the sources and then 2) to make comments on the topic by citing the relevant ideas from the abstracts. Students are required to paraphrase and summarize the information with in-text citations as well as references. When the essay is completed, students need to present it in the last section by speaking into microphones and then to answer three related questions orally according to what they hear. We also organize the Academic Vocabulary Contest and the Citation Conventions Contest annually among undergraduates.
The following comments could represent all student and teacher participants’ opinions:
I like the contests because they can increase my vocabulary size and raise my awareness of avoiding plagiarism in writing. (S5)
TEAP is quite different from CETest-4. The test items are very practical: To synthesize information from different sources is a basic skill in both English writing and Chinese writing. The items also function as a guide and help us novice EAP instructors to have a better understanding of the EAP instruction content and of the difference between EAP and EGP. (T7)
Setting up the China EAP Association (CEAPA)
As EAP practice has gained growing popularity and momentum in Shanghai tertiary institutions, EAP has become a catchword for English-language instructors across the country, and there is more readiness in the academy to follow the example of Shanghai and accommodate the new orientation to CET. To promote EAP instruction and research in Chinese tertiary education, CEAPA was thus set up in January 2015. As a nationwide academic organization, it allows EAP concepts and practices to stretch beyond Shanghai and struggle their way into more campuses across the nation. Since 2015, it has organized various national EAP conferences and EAP teacher-training workshops. It has also held national and international collegiate conferences annually, and different kinds of national contests to promote the development of students’ EAP skills and conventions. It has developed many mini-lectures or micro-lessons on EAP instruction and academic communication skills. For this reason, the Centre for Research Writing and Publishing in English was set up in 2016, aiming to improve students’ communication skills in the international arena.
Our findings reveal that a paradigm shift from EGP to EAP is fraught with many hindrances in EFL contexts like China and is constrained by many factors such as institutional, pedagogical, identity, and even ideological ones. The results are partly consistent with the findings of Anthony (2011) and Tsou (2009). The explanations for relatively more hindrances to EAP experiments in China might be summarized as follows: 1) There is a general belief that the cultural and humanistic education of foreign-language learning should take priority over its instrumental role and that general English can function as the role of humanistic education better than EAP/ESP; 2) English-language teaching in China is driven by national college English tests or ‘China’s Standards of English-language Ability’ instead of by the need to use English for disciplinary studies; 3) Chinese CET policymakers enjoy greater independence from government requirements. For example, in 2007, MOE officially issued a government document stipulating that ‘CET should be committed to equipping students with English communicative skills appropriate for engaging in their disciplinary studies’. However, there was a failure to respond to this requirement in the CECR published in the same year (2007) and in the CETG designed in 2015.
The successful shift from EGP to EAP in Shanghai might have some implications for the implementation of EAP in similar settings. Firstly, it is necessary to diverge a little from Western practices by adopting a wide-angled EAP approach at the beginning stage which can ensure its wider acceptance by stakeholders. Secondly, gaining the support of the government is essential because a top-down approach could effectively reduce the objection from institutional administrators at the beginning of the reform. Thirdly, running EAP teaching-training workshops plays a very important role in ‘brainwashing’ language teachers who have little knowledge of EAP and thus assisting them in engaging with EAP instruction. Fourthly, organizing student conferences and different kinds of competitions with English as a working language could create a need for EAP skills in a non-EMI context and promote the reform of CET programmes as the anti-driving mechanism. Finally, writing local EAP teaching materials and organizing an EAP-oriented standardized test could effectively guide EAP instruction and ensure its citywide or nationwide implementation.
However, some limitations of our study should be noted. Firstly, we failed to compare students’ performance before and after their taking of EAP courses in terms of quantitative methods. Secondly, we did not arrange the interviews with subject specialists who might have had the final say in the effect of EAP instruction. Therefore, further research might focus on these two tasks.