Chinese schools supported by Beijing in the UK will be replaced by teachers from Taiwan | Taiwan
A group of all-party MPs are in talks with Taiwan to provide Mandarin teachers to the UK as the government is seeking to phase out state-linked Chinese Confucius Institutes, the The observer has learned.
There are currently 30 Confucius Institute branches operating across the UK. Although controversies have existed for many years, they have continued to teach Britons about Chinese language, culture and business etiquette. These schools are actually joint ventures between a host university in Britain, a partner university in China and the Chinese International Education Foundation (CIEF), an organization based in Beijing.
Until recently, the Beijing-backed program was viewed positively by the conservative government. As Minister for Education in 2014, Liz Truss praised the Confucius Classroom Network, saying they will “build a solid infrastructure for Mandarin” in the UK.
But Truss has since taken an increasingly hawkish stance on Beijing. Recent reports suggested she was prepared to declare China an “acute threat” to the UK’s national security, putting it in the same category as Russia. As bilateral relations between China and the UK continue to deteriorate, Confucius’ language learning and teaching project has come under intense scrutiny.
Activists have questioned the funding and recruitment process for the Chinese language teaching initiative. They also pointed to the limit of freedom of expression in these classrooms and called the British approach to teaching Mandarin “outdated”.
Nearly all UK government spending on Mandarin education in schools is channeled through academic Confucius Institutes, a study by China Research Group in June showed. This represents at least £27million allocated from 2015 to 2024, according to estimates.
Among those involved in the talks with the Taiwanese was Conservative MP Alicia Kearns. Under the new proposal seen by MPs, that funding could be redirected to alternative programs such as those in Taiwan.
Britain’s foreign language capacity has been a major topic at Westminster in recent years as the country looks for ways to implement the post-Brexit “global Britain” framework. It was revealed last month that only 14 FCDO officials are trained to speak fluent Chinese each year. Lack of command of Mandarin has raised concerns for British diplomacy and has also put language teaching in the spotlight.
Such concerns are also shared in the United States, and Taiwan has stepped in. In December 2020, the Chinese-speaking island signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States to expand language education. The Taipei Overseas Community Affairs Council, also a government agency, has set up Mandarin learning centers in a number of US cities since last year, in apparent competition with Confucius Institutes.
But Andrew Methven, who started studying Chinese two decades ago and now runs a Mandarin-learning newsletter, Slow Chinese, said outsourcing language teaching ‘is not a solution’. . “There needs to be a much deeper change in the way we understand China in our education system,” he said.
“For example, looking at how China can be included more in the existing curriculum at GCSE level and below – such as China’s role in the Second World War, as well as looking at earlier parts of Asian history. At Level A and beyond, the language should be taught based on the experiences of people who have actually learned it, and not outsourced to anywhere – China, Taiwan or elsewhere.