Xi’an Jiaotong University, one of China’s top public research universities, has recently made a significant change to its admission and graduation requirements. The university has decided to remove the mandatory College English Test (CET) that students were previously required to undertake. This move comes amid an ongoing debate about the practical benefits of learning English for a significant portion of Chinese students.
The decision to eliminate the CET requirement was described by the university’s academic affairs office as a “normal measure made by the school according to current developments.” While the CET-based English courses will still remain in the curriculum, this change reflects a growing trend to reduce the emphasis on English language proficiency in Chinese education.
The debate about the practicality of learning English has been gaining momentum over the years. Tuo Qingming, a deputy of China’s National People’s Congress, stated earlier this year that fluency in English has “little practical value for many people.” According to Tuo, for a considerable number of people, foreign language learning is solely for admission to higher education and is primarily exam-oriented. These individuals rarely, if ever, use foreign languages in their work or daily lives.
However, not everyone agrees with this viewpoint. Yu Xiaoyu, a linguistics expert at the University of Hong Kong, cautioned against reducing English language requirements. He argued that proficiency in one of the world’s most-spoken languages is still advantageous in the employment market. Yu highlighted that many job opportunities for university graduates continue to consider English proficiency as beneficial. Those with higher English proficiency, especially those who can prove it, are more likely to come across more opportunities.
According to Yu, the current CET curriculum does need reform. He pointed out that a student can score highly in the test without being able to effectively communicate in English. Therefore, it is important not to interpret the university’s decision to remove the CET requirement as a sign that they are attaching less importance to the English language.
The change made by Xi’an Jiaotong University reflects a shifting perspective on the practical value of English fluency in China. While there are differing opinions on the subject, it is undeniable that English proficiency can open doors to educational and occupational opportunities. Finding the right balance between language learning and other essential skills is crucial to ensure that students are well-prepared for the globalized world they will enter upon graduation.
As the debate continues, it remains to be seen whether other institutions in China will follow in Xi’an Jiaotong University’s footsteps and reconsider their English language requirements. The outcome of this ongoing discussion will shape the future of language education in China and potentially impact the country’s international competitiveness in the long run.