UK sector pushes for more China exchanges

Published 17/03/2023

The UK government is looking to develop its expertise on China and Mandarin language skills as Downing Street refreshed its international defence and foreign policy.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government said that after the Integrated Review in 2021, authorities have taken a number of steps to increase knowledge of and expertise on China, which it is now seeking to further.

Funding to build expertise on China in 2024 to 2025 will be doubled and Mandarin language skills boosted in order for the UK to be able to “engage with and understand China, while protecting national security”.

The government says the UK has become “increasingly concerned” about the military, diplomatic and economic activity of the Chinese Communist Party in the last two years, with some politicians heaping pressure on universities to cut ties with the country.

In the lead up to the Conservative leadership contest, Sunak has also called for Confucius Institutes in the UK to be closed.

A previous pilot program last year saw 170 civil servants trained in Mandarin, with 20 going to Taiwan to enrol on language immersion programs.

Chief executive of Universities UK, Vivienne Stern, recently told i that more UK study abroad and full degree students should be encouraged to spend time in China “to learn Chinese, and to spend time in Chinese institutions”, but emphasised for different reasons than suggested by Downing Street.

She said it was “important not to allow the anxieties over geopolitics to fundamentally interfere with the landscape of collaboration”.

“It’s more important than ever to build understanding and people-to-people links”

A spokesperson for Universities UK International said, “We welcome the UK government’s financial provision for Mandarin language teaching and increasing the UK’s ability to engage with and understand China.”

“It’s more important than ever to build understanding and people-to-people links between the UK and China,” founder & managing director of Pagoda Projects, Jamie Bettles, told The PIE.

“The renewal of the China Capabilities Programme and Mandarin Excellence Programme are welcome signals that stronger connectivity through education and cultural exchange remains a priority for the UK government.”

Following a China-Britain Business Council event on March 15, chief development officer at Oxford International Education Group David Pilsbury noted that the UK remains the top destination for Chinese students.

“Do we really not see the benefits of that?” he asked. “Do we really not want to do research with Chinese universities in shared areas of interest like climate change, public health, sustainable technologies?”

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