Friday 31st January 2020 saw us host our fifth “Schools and Universities Day” at the UCL Institute of Education. We now run this event every two years and it always proves to be a great success – this year was no different!

As a team we are aware that there are more and more students interested in continuing their study of Mandarin after they leave school, therefore we wanted to create a unique opportunity for school students, their teachers and university representatives to come together and talk about the available options.

To make this happen, for each event we invite all UK universities who offer courses with a Chinese component to attend and this year we were fortunate enough to be joined by 18 institutions (listed below).  We advertise the event to schools through our e-forum, and any school is welcome to bring their students. The event proved really popular and in total we welcomed over 200 school students and teachers, most of whom had ordered their tickets within days of the bookings system opening!

From a school student perspective, the main aim was to speak directly to university representatives about the reality of studying Mandarin or Chinese Studies beyond school and to find out more about the specific courses on offer. For teachers, the focus was on learning more about how they can best support their students in preparation for continuing Mandarin at university and hearing what universities themselves expect from incoming undergraduates.

Of course, the day is also a good opportunity for study and group discussion, which takes place during the morning sessions. School teachers separate from their students and head into a discussion with university representatives, hosted by our Confucius Institute Director Katharine Carruthers OBE. This year discussions focused on the development of Chinese as an examined subject in schools, and what makes a good learner of Chinese. Teachers really appreciate the chance to speak to universities in this format, as reflected in their feedback, such as these below:

“The networking with universities was exceptionally useful. We discussed expectations and how to narrow the gap between courses in secondary school and universities” – Teacher from The Urswick School.

“I learned what universities expect from students and it made me think about how I can adapt my daily teaching to suit” – Teacher from Lister Community School.

Meanwhile, the students took part in two sessions: Q&A interviews with native Mandarin-speakers to give them speaking practice in preparation for their exams, and then a panel talk with six undergraduate students about their own personal experiences of studying Mandarin. Hearing directly from current university students is incredibly important for the audience, as these comments show:

“I found the university panel most useful because it answered questions I had about studying. It gave me a clearer idea of what is involved in the courses and I liked how enthusiastic the students were, which made it more enjoyable” – Student from Christ’s Hospital School.

“Hearing stories from previous undergraduate students was fantastic as it made studying Chinese sound more fun than scary” – Student from Torquay Boys’ Grammar School.

After lunch, the afternoon was dedicated to the University Fayre, where each university had their own stall to decorate with marketing materials and information about their courses. Once conversations were underway, a popular topic was the year abroad: Is it compulsory? Does it take place in second year or in third year? Do I have to study at a Chinese university? Can I find a work placement for the year? Another common question was whether universities offered courses for advanced learners of the language, and not just ab initio. This time is key for information-gathering; as one Dartford Grammar student commented:

“I found the University Fayre the most useful as I feel I have gained a greater understanding of university in general as well as the specifics of Chinese in university and the opportunities it grants”.  

Another student from Dixie Grammar confirmed this, writing:

“I found [the University Fayre] useful for making a decision about which university ranked as my firm choice and my insurance choice”.

Throughout the day we were massively impressed with how well the students engaged with the university representatives, and the confidence and initiative they showed in approaching the stalls to discuss their future plans. From the feedback we collected, it seems like students were equally as pleased with the event and grateful for the opportunity to speak to universities in this way.

We would like to thank everyone who helped us make the event a success, especially the universities who joined us:

  1. Cambridge University
  2. Cardiff University
  3. Durham University
  4. Edinburgh University
  5. Exeter University
  6. Goldsmiths
  7. University of Kent
  8. Lancaster University
  9. University of Leeds
  10. London School of Economics (LSE)
  11. Middlesex University
  12. Newcastle University
  13. University of Nottingham
  14. University of Sheffield
  15. The School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS)
  16. University of Sussex
  17. University of Wales Trinity Saint David
  18. University of Westminster

A big thank you as well to the university undergraduates who joined us for the Student Panel session, and also to our fantastic IOE MA TESOL/ MA Applied Linguistics students who gave up their own time to volunteer during the interviewing session. The school students really enjoyed hearing from young people who started learning Mandarin in similar circumstances to them and finding out where the language is now taking them. Likewise, the chance to speak and listen to young adults who are native speakers was invaluable.

We aim to next run this event in the academic year 2021-2022. Until then, please keep checking our Eventbrite page to find out what else we have on offer: