Global connections

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation is not only one of Canada’s first physical education faculties, but also is a model for both a faculty and new degree program on the other side of the world.

Back in 2006, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and the Shanghai University of Sport to share knowledge and open doors for research and teaching. This memorandum was signed during a visit to the university by a delegation led by the then-dean of the faculty Mike Mahon.

“Our faculty has benefited in so many ways by being a part of the global academic picture,” said Tom Hinch, associate dean, community and international engagement, for the faculty. “Having an agreement in place with Shanghai University of Sport allows our students and faculty to collaborate and share ideas.”

A visit to the U of A and meetings with physical education and recreation faculty members in 2007 by Wei Zhiqiang, professor at the Shanghai University, left him impressed by the undergraduate bachelor of arts in recreation, sport and tourism degree offered.

Based on his visit, Zhiqiang returned to China and set the wheels in motion to create a similar faculty and degree program at his university in Shanghai.
Now the dean of the new recreation-focused faculty, Zhiqiang says he is proud of the accomplishments of his university. The new degree program at Shanghai University of Sport was initiated just one year after Zhiqiang’s visit to the U of A and will graduate its first cohort of students in 2012. 

Zhiqiang says, “recreation and leisure are growing fields in China and we were the first university to offer a degree in this area. We are proud to be the first place to offer this and have received fame from across our country.”

“The arrangement has had tremendous benefits to the University of Alberta,” said Hinch. For example, having visiting professors on campus provides an opportunity to share thoughts and work together on research projects. In fact, Gordon Walker, professor in physical education and recreation at the U of A, spent several weeks at the university in Shanghai teaching about recreation and leisure. 

“I taught two short courses about recreation and leisure within a month and it was a tremendous learning experience to be immersed in the culture, both personally and professionally,” said Walker. “Since my visit to China, we are now hosting a visiting professor as well as having several grad students working with our faculty members.”

At present, Donging Liu, a member of the faculty in Shanghai, is here for a yearlong visit to learn about leisure in Canada. 

Liu has been at University of Alberta since March. He has found many interesting aspects of how recreation and leisure in Canadian society. Based on the research he’s conducting while here, he’s noticed that “participation of playing sports is quite high in Canada�about 70 to 80 per cent�but in China, participation is about 30 per cent”.

Highlights for Liu include “attending classes, travelling around Alberta visiting national parks, and just learning about Canadian culture, recreation and leisure.”

Zhiqiang said, “The University of Alberta is famous in Canada and around the world in the field of physicals education and recreation and we are proud to be connected to such a fine faculty and institution.”

“The partnership between the two universities has proved to be mutually beneficial,” said Hinch, and that having this memorandum in place opens so many doors for the U of A’s researchers and students for “mutual learning”.

“We have a number of graduate students come over from China and we’ve had our own faculty members go over to China for short-term visits,” which he says are important for providing cultural and academic discussion opportunities. And, looking ahead, Hinch says that “our hope is to offer a study abroad experience in China for undergrads in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.”