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Career Advice

Building a multi-university joint language BA program

The proposal overcomes the common challenge of insufficient numbers and resources to offer degrees in languages such as Chinese.

BY WEI CAI | FEB 09 2023

Many Canadian universities offer language courses as part of their bachelor of arts degree (BA), minor or certificate programs in related subject areas, or merely as credit course options. Many of the language programs are small, making it unlikely for them to develop into a BA program. One possible way to have such a program within existing financial and personnel constraints is to offer a joint program with other universities. The following is a proposal for how a joint language BA program could be a viable option for interested institutions.

The reality

Larger universities offer BA major and honours programs under various names, such as Asian studies, East Asian studies, East Asian language studies, Asian area studies, and Asian language and culture. Students may take courses in literature, culture, and linguistics in addition to language courses. The number of Canadian universities offering these programs is small. Many (if not most) universities offer only minor options, certificate programs or individual credit courses, with no recognition of specialization. Furthermore, to my knowledge, I do not currently know about any Canadian programs that have a “BA in Chinese.” For many universities, developing such a program is unrealistic, due to factors such as insufficient teaching capacity, resource constraints such as suitable teaching spaces, and institutional development plans or priorities. Building a joint Chinese major program would be the only way for these institutions to move forward towards a BA program.

A cooperative model

The joint program I am proposing would adopt a borrowing/lending model: each institution would use their own existing courses as a basis for the program and borrow/lend other required courses from/to other institutions. For instance, if the BA program required 45 units and a university only offered a Chinese minor with 30 units of Chinese language courses, the university could borrow the additional 15 units from other universities that offer content courses, such as courses in a particular period of Chinese culture or types of literary genres. These courses could be taken through travel-study programs, block week offerings, online courses, and so on. The joint program should meet fundamental program requirements of individual institutions.


The joint major program would provide valuable learning opportunities for students that would otherwise be impossible. It would strengthen the current available programs and course offerings: it would allow students in smaller programs to have not only more course offerings in Chinese but also recognition of specialized training and knowledge in the form of a major option; and it would enhance course enrollments for bigger programs by attracting additional students interested in the BA program.

This proposal builds on each institution’s strengths and provides space to share resources with each other. It would make efficient use of specialties and resources from different universities. Program and course offerings largely rely on the expertise of faculty members, but there is insufficient breadth of expertise to offer a BA within a single institution, given the low number of permanent faculty members in Chinese programs. A joint BA program would allow expertise to be shared among different institutions. This joint program model could also work for other language programs in Canada, which face similar situations as the Chinese program.


Admittedly, establishing a joint Chinese BA program would require meticulous curriculum planning and may need to undergo lengthy administrative approvals at various levels. One major issue is how to align the requirements of the joint program with the regulations of each university. However, as a first step, we need to start to discuss this option and specifics on how to move forward towards a BA program. Given the potential benefits that would come with a joint program, that work deserves our time and efforts.

Wei Cai is a professor and division chair in Chinese studies and Japanese studies in the school of languages, linguistics, literatures and cultures in the faculty of arts at the University of Calgary.

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  1. Michelle Mu / February 13, 2023 at 14:30

    Although I support the ideas of how universities and colleges to provide other language courses including minority languages, I feel that it would also be beneficial to open to other individuals such as non-degree studies where are only taking courses mainly to achieve personal goals without working towards the degree or certificates.

    Having a teaching and learning space is one thing, but also providing additional learning resources and opportunities to develop oral communication and listening comprehension are just as important to maintain language learning in a rapidly growing AI world and try to shift away from traditional teaching methods to more innovative teaching methods to show more personalized approach to learners.

  2. Michelle Mu / February 14, 2023 at 14:01

    Another thing that would be important to consider is to provide more comprehensive learning approach in language programs for a more innovative and personalized learning approach. However, it seems that many colleges and universities are using the traditional teaching approach by mainly focusing on assignments, projects and exams, which I’m not sure if this is really an effective approach in language learning in the long run.

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