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FutureLearn on the road in China

Author: Kate Sandars, Head of Partnerships Development at FutureLearn

Travelling in China with my CEO this weekend, the last thing we expected was to find FutureLearn featured in a museum. 

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) held a series of events to celebrate its 70th anniversary, and Simon Nelson, Chief Executive, was there to deliver a couple of speeches and to take part in the World University President’s Symposium, a gathering of leaders from SISU’s partners. It was also a great opportunity to spend time face-to-face with our partners in China, including the teams who create courses for FutureLearn. 

As part of the event at SISU, the international visitors, including representatives from some of FutureLearn’s other partners (University of Leeds, University of Leicester and University of Waikato) were given a tour of the university’s new museum. The museum focuses on the world of language, covering the span of human history. 

There is also a section on SISU as an institution. SISU was founded in 1949, the same year as the People’s Republic of China. It started out as the Shanghai Russian School, which was aimed at boosting the number of Russian speakers who could help the country communicate with the then Soviet Union. Today, SISU offers courses in 42 foreign languages, covering arts, education, economics, management and law, as well as language and literature.

It has partnered with FutureLearn since 2014, offering courses in Intercultural Communication and courses on learning Chinese. These courses are particularly special in that SISU’s students are involved in the production and design of these courses, and also feature in the course videos alongside the expert academics. 

As Simon and I were walking around the museum we came across a timeline of the university’s key milestones, only to find a photo of Simon on the wall, signing our partnership agreement with SISU back in 2014, along with a photograph of a launch event for SISU’s first course. As a seven-year-old company we were amazed to see this and it brought home the fact that our work in online education is part of history. At FutureLearn, our mission is to transform access to education, and while we know we are starting to make an impact, we also know that we have a long way to go. We have 10 million learners on our platform, but that of course is only scratching the surface of what is possible. Seeing FutureLearn featured in an actual museum was really special and quite humbling. 

As Head of Partnerships Development, my role is to build partnerships around the world and Asia has been a particular interest for me over the last few years. Last week, we also visited our newest partner in China, Nankai University in the city of Tianjin, for an international conference on the development of online courses. 

So needless to say, the FutureLearn team will be spending more time in China in the years ahead, but on a personal note, Simon and I are both hoping for invitations to SISU’s centenary event in 2049!

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