World / Cultural Exchange

China-backed Confucius Institutes spread across UK

By Cecily Liu in London (China Daily) Updated: 2015-10-22 09:57

The rapid expansion of Chi­na's Confucius Institutes in the United Kingdom is playing a significant role, not only in helping Western students to learn Mandarin but also by pro­moting cultural understanding between China and the West, experts said.

Started in 2004 by the Chi­nese government in an effort to help Western students learn the Chinese language and cul­ture, Confucius Institutes are affiliated with Western universities. They generally have a particular focus, such as cul­ture, business or arts and music.

One example is the Business Confucius Institute at the Uni­versity of Leeds, known as the BCIUL, established in Novem­ber 2012. The institute not only offers the standard range of lan­guage and cultural classes, but also helps to make introduc­tions between UK businesses and their counterparts in China through events and networks.

The choice of business focus goes back to the institute's founding director, Peter Buck­ley, a professor of international business at the University of Leeds, who has been instrumental in developing links with Beijing's University of Interna­tional Business and Economics, the Chinese partner of BCIUL.

"The Confucius Institutes are a bridge for mutual learning and understanding," said Hin­rich Voss, executive director of BCUIL.

Voss said one particular highlight for BCUIL this year has been "cultural month", from late September to late October, which features a series of special events to cele­brate the UK­China Year of Culture.

The culture month includes events across the city of Leeds, including a painting exhibition, a British-­Chinese fashion show and a play performed in a Chi­nese restaurant.

Since the BCIUL's opening in 2012, student numbers have grown to nearly 400. The insti­tute also works with businesses whose employees want to learn Mandarin.

The BCIUL is just one exam­ple of many Confucius Insti­tutes in the UK.

As of last year, there were 298 Confucius Insti­tutes and Confucius Class­ rooms in 38 European countries. Worldwide, the UK, with 115 centers, is the second­ largest host country behind the United States.

The increasing popularity of learning Mandarin coincides with an initiative from the Brit­ish government to give Manda­rin more importance in the British education system. After returning from a trip to China in 2013, UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged students to move away from French and German and start studying Mandarin.

"By the time the children born today leave school, China is set to be the world's largest economy," he said. "So it's time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin."

Cameron also said he hoped that the number of students of Mandarin would increase to 400,000 by 2016.


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