India to review Chinese language programmes across universities

Some universities on Ministry of Education’s list deny Chinese government funding or links.

August 02, 2020 10:45 pm | Updated August 03, 2020 09:46 am IST - NEW DELHI

Need for review: The Vellore Institute of Technology runs one of the two Confucius Institutes in India.

Need for review: The Vellore Institute of Technology runs one of the two Confucius Institutes in India.

Close on the heels of its decision to drop Mandarin from its list of suggested languages under the National Education Policy, the Ministry of Education (Ministry of Human Resource Development) has decided to put several higher education institutes that offer Chinese language training under the scanner.

In particular, the Ministry is looking closely at universities that have in the past had links with the official Chinese language training department “Hanban” that runs hundreds of “Confucius Institutes” (CI) abroad.

National Education Policy 2020 | Mandarin dropped from language list

“The Ministry of Human Resource Development and University Grants Commission (UGC) are in the process of reviewing the work being done by higher education institutions as part of agreements/educational arrangements with foreign institutions. As part of this process we would like to review the activities undertaken by the Confucius Centre in your university/ institution affiliated to your university,” read the letter sent out on July 29, which The Hindu has seen.

Although India has only two functional CIs at present — at Mumbai University and the Vellore Institute of Technology — the Ministry has sent letters to at least five institutions that offer Chinese language training, asking them to send all details of collaboration since 2017, which will be reviewed by Education Secretary Amit Khare on August 5.

Neither the UGC nor the Ministry of Education would comment on the meeting. It is unclear whether the review by the Secretary of Education aims to scrutinise cooperation only with the CIs, as the letter suggests, or Chinese language studies and educational links with Chinese universities in general.

Varsities confused

University officials that The Hindu spoke to, who have received letters from the Ministry, say there is some confusion over why they have been contacted at all.

O.P. Jindal Global University in Haryana, among those on the Ministry’s review list, said the University has established partnerships with various universities in China, but runs its language centre — not with Hanban — but in collaboration with the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan.

“We do not have a Confucius Centre. We have not established such a centre or institute. However, as a global university, we teach many foreign languages,” said C. Raj Kumar, Vice-Chancellor of the Jindal Global University.

The Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, also denied any connection. “We have received a communication from the UGC but we have not received any funding from [Hanban],” said P. Kaliraj, Vice-Chancellor. He added that Mandarin is not taught at the University’s Centre for Foreign Languages.

Other universities reportedly under the scanner like Jawaharlal Nehru University, whose Centre for Chinese and Southeast Asian studies had signed the first MoU with CI in 2007, say the plan never took off. JNU had disagreements over the structure of faculty that the CI demanded, and shelved the idea, Centre Chairperson B.R. Deepak told The Hindu .

CIs have come under scrutiny recently in Europe, the U.S. and other countries with allegations of them being used as espionage hubs. In a statement earlier this month, the Confucius Institute Headquarters said the Chinese Ministry of Education plans to re-brand Hanban as an NGO called the “Centre for Chinese language education and cooperation”, in order to “disperse western misinterpretation”.

According to diplomats, India has always been “ahead of the curve” by discouraging the setting up of CIs, while collaborating on Chinese language training. In 2012, India signed an MoU with Hanban under which 300 Indian teachers would be trained in China. An upgraded “Educational Exchange Programme” (EEP) agreement was signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s visit to China in 2015.

“We maintained a distinction between Confucius Institutes, which we had strong worries about, and Chinese language training support in CBSE schools in conjunction with Hanban,” said former Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha, who was posted to Beijing at the time.

Among the two exceptions was the University of Mumbai that set up its CI in 2013, and the Vellore Institute of Technology, which started a Chinese Language Centre in 2009. After initial funding from China, Mumbai CI has supported itself through revenue from its own language courses.

“Chinese is important for cultural and strategic reasons and we need to have people who know Chinese. We have very few. In fact, the government needs to increase the Chinese training capacity in the country. We have sent a proposal to them a year ago to give us permanent faculty here at the University to set up a Department of Chinese,” Dr. Vibha Surana, who heads the institute, told The Hindu.

(With inputs from R. Sujatha in Chennai)

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