Teaching qualifications

Teach UK students about China to tackle knowledge ‘gap’, experts say | Education policy

Experts have called for additional government funding to boost “Chinese competence” in the UK education system in the face of “a serious national deficit” of literacy in China and Mandarin speakers.

Despite China’s growing importance in the world, research by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has concluded that the UK lacks sufficient knowledge and understanding of China to “make sensible decisions”.

The report cites the government’s decision to remove Huawei from UK networks in light of the perceived security risks, which have been estimated at £500m for BT, “a cost that could arguably have been avoided had there been had a better understanding and awareness of China in the UK.” government”.

According to Hepi, the number of Chinese studies students has not increased over the past 25 years and there has been a decline in the number of Chinese studies departments at UK universities offering honors undergraduate degrees, down by a third, from 13 to 9 between 2019 and 2020.

In schools, modern China is “largely absent” from the curriculum and most students will not be interested in China at all during their studies. There has been some progress in the study of Mandarin in schools, but qualifications are “problematic”, according to the Hepi report, and the numbers are low.

Although there is strong research and expertise in universities, it is often the result of hiring specialists from the rest of the world. Chinese scholars, meanwhile, face challenges related to academic freedom, and universities “are not transparent enough” about funding sources.

The Hepi report is based on interviews with more than 40 education, government and business experts. Scholars interviewed agreed that despite the controversy surrounding the Confucius Institutes, they have played a vital role in teaching Mandarin in the absence of other investments.

The report calls on the government to publish a strategy to address what has been described as a ‘generational challenge’ to developing Chinese literacy in the UK, and to consider targeted funding for Chinese studies at universities and investment to help train teachers in modules that cover modern China.

Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford, writing in the report, said: “In a post-Covid world, the way China responds to questions relating to everything from the financing of science to global supply chains, will have a direct impact. implications for the UK.

“As in any democratic society, there will be varied opinions in the British public sphere on how to deal with China. These views will often be forcefully expressed, as is normal in a free society. But these conversations and debates can no longer afford to take a quick and superficial view of China. The time to deepen the debate has surely arrived.

Report author Michael Natzler added: “Whatever the levels of skepticism or support for China’s activities today, there is expert consensus that the UK lacks knowledge. and understanding of China enough to make sensible decisions. This is a problem that should have been solved long ago. »