ESP Project Leader Profile: Jigang Cai

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

Jigang Cai is a full professor at the Foreign Languages and Literature Department of Fudan University, Shanghai, China. Jigang is currently president of the China EAP Association and vice president of the Chinese Association for ESP. In addition, he works for the Shanghai government as chair of the Shanghai Advisory Committee on EFL teaching at Tertiary Level. His research interests include contrastive linguistics to applied linguistics and ESP/EAP studies.

In the last 10 years, he has been promoting the implementation of ESP and EAP at the tertiary level in mainland China. He has published more than 50 research papers on ESP and EAP in many academic journals. He is currently responsible for the paradigm shift from teaching EGP (English for general purposes) to ESP at tertiary institutions in Shanghai and in mainland China.

Professor Jigang Cai
Foreign Languages and Literature Department, Fudan University, China

How would you define leadership?

Leadership in ESP for me entails persistence and innovation. There are many barriers to ESP practice in mainland China. Those who assume leadership roles must be strong enough when faced with opposition and negotiate the tensions. Innovation means that leaders should find a unique way in implementing ESP, as ESP practices vary from country to country. For example, the proportion of English-medium instruction programs and courses in Chinese universities are low. To motivate students to select ESP and EAP courses, one must be innovative in designing the program and curriculum.

Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful? 

Teaching English as foreign language (TEFL) to non-English majors at tertiary level in mainland China is popularly known as college English teaching (CET). Since 1978, CET has been oriented toward English for general purposes (EGP), and the majority of college English programs in the academy is to help students to pass CET-4, a nationwide EGP-based standardized test. The appointment as chair of the Shanghai Advisory Committee on EFL teaching at Tertiary Level by Shanghai government in 2012 provided me with an opportunity to initiate a paradigm shift from EGP to ESP. I worked with my colleagues to design A Framework of Reference for CET in Shanghai (Framework), which is an ESP-oriented curriculum. I know, however, it is impossible to impose a top-down curriculum on local college English programs without the government support, because ESP pedagogy is strongly biased and criticized in mainland China where both the MOE (Ministry of Education) and policymakers of foreign language instruction believe that the ideological or educational values of foreign language teaching should take priority over its instrumental role.

It is crucial, therefore, to persuade the Shanghai government to issue an administrative document if the framework is to be accepted by all Shanghai tertiary institutions. I talked with the officials of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission about the significance of the paradigm shift, which will not only change the test-oriented CET programs but also help to establish Shanghai as the international hub of finance, commerce, technology, and transportation by producing graduates with strong competitiveness in the global marketplace. The communication led to the release of the framework as a government document in 2013, which requires that all Shanghai tertiary institutions should “equip students with English language skills to enable them to succeed in their academic studies and future careers.”

As I read about Jigang’s activities in the area of policy-making processes, I was especially interested and impressed because I obtained a graduate degree in Pacific International Affairs at the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS formerly IR/PS) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). As a leader, Jigang has been effective in collaborating with stakeholders to achieve positive change in Shanghai (An excellent example for all ESPers worldwide)!

It will be very interesting to see how Shanghai changes in the future. In this connection, I am reminded of the role of UCSD in the transformation of San Diego, California. (For Japanese readers, you can see a recent JFIT report here of how the city compares to the traditional center of innovation, Silicon Valley.)

Do you have questions or comments for Jigang? Please post these below or contact him directly!

All the best,


About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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