Makes offer to host India's first Confucius Institute, pending government approval

Manipal University is in talks with Chinese officials to open the first campus of an Indian university in China.

The Karnataka-based private university is exploring a tie-up with two Chinese universities, Tianjin University and Shanghai's Tongji University, to set up what would be China's first all-English educational institution that will provide training in Information Technology (IT) and in the sciences.

Manipal University Vice-Chancellor K. Ramnarayan, who along with other officials from the university met Chinese university heads and government officials in Beijing and Tianjin this week, told The Hindu in an interview that Manipal had also offered to host the first ever Confucius Institute in India, pending government approval, which will offer Chinese language courses to Indian students.

“We would like to provide academic support and set up an all-English campus in China, where we will provide training in both technology and health sciences, wherever there is a requirement,” Dr. Ramnarayan said.

Two potential partners are Tianjin University and Tongji University in Shanghai, which is known for its strong programmes in architecture and technology. “We could collaborate at different levels, whether at the student level, the faculty level through exchanges, or programmes that could be jointly run,” Dr. Ramnarayan said.

Manipal already operates overseas campuses in Dubai, Nepal, Antigua and Malaysia. “We always felt that China is one country where we could make our presence felt if there is an opportunity,” the Vice-Chancellor said. “We in India have always been looking west. But I think the potential for India and China to work together is tremendous. We have just not tapped the potential. Education could be a good bond to bring India and China together.”

Dr. Ramnarayan last week also met with the head of China's National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, or Hanban, which runs the global programme of Confucius Institutes. He said he had invited the Hanban to open a Confucius Institute at Manipal.

The Chinese government has set up more than three hundred Confucius Institutes in 100 countries as part of a new push to boost its soft power. The centres are usually set up as a joint initiative among a host foreign university, a Chinese partner university and the Hanban, which runs the programme.

India has so far not allowed the setting up of Confucius Institutes citing rules restricting the operation of autonomous educational institutions by foreign governments. There are as many as 70 such institutes in the United States alone, 13 in Britain and several dozen in Asia, located in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries.

An earlier initiative to set up a Confucius Institute at Jawaharlal Nehru University fell through over procedural differences, including over the selection of teachers. Talks stalled after several rounds of discussions, which also saw an initial memorandum being signed coinciding with the visit of Premier Wen Jiabao in 2005. “There has been serious willingness at both ends, but due to certain matters of procedural difference it has not been worked out so far,” said Sabaree Mitra, a professor at the Centre for Chinese and South East Asian Studies . Vellore Institute of Technology, near Chennai, set up a smaller Chinese Language Centre after it faced barriers to setting up a full-fledged Confucius Institute and over securing visas for Chinese teachers.

Manipal University officials said they wanted to work together with the Indian government to set up what would be the country's first such institute, which would offer courses in Chinese language and on Chinese culture.