India to review Chinese language programs across universities

India to review Chinese language programs across universities

Following in his heels the Ministry of Education (Ministry of Human Resources Development) agreed to bring Mandarin off the list of approved Chinese language, which is protected by the National Education Policy, under scanners, many higher-education institutions.

The Ministry is especially interested in the universities that had previously had connections to the “Hanban” official language education network, which operates hundreds of “Confucius Institutes” (CIs) outside China.

“The Ministry of Human Resource Development and University Grants Commission (UGC) is 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,”

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.

No comment on the meeting would be received from the UGC or the Education Ministry. Whether the Secretary for Education’s examination aims at evaluating collaboration with the CIs alone, as the letter states, or Chinese language studies and educational relations with Chinese universities in general is unknown.

Varsities confused

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 center — 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 center 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 to the media.

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 to the media.