Reset teaching on China and Mandarin, report urges

A report from Hepi urges the government to lead reforms in schools and universities to address “the severe national deficit” in China literacy and Mandarin speakers

The UK education system should better equip the next generation with Mandarin skills and a cultural understanding of China.

That is the conclusion of a report produced by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), published on 31 March, that argues there is “consensus” within government, academia, and policy around addressing “the severe national deficit in China literacy and Mandarin speakers”.

The report estimates that £3m to £10m invested across all stages of UK education is needed. The government has earmarked £40m over 10 years to expand Mandarin teaching – but, the report argues, this can only address one aspect of the cultural deficit.

Conversations and debates can no longer afford to take in a swift and superficial view of China. The time to deepen the debate has surely arrived
— Prof Rana Mitter, University of Oxford

The Pre-U Mandarin Chinese qualification will end in 2023, leaving only the unreformed, “problematic” A-level in Mandarin: reversing this decision is the report’s major recommendation. It suggests that the suite of Level 3 qualifications include a new A-level in Chinese Civilisation. Course reforms at levels 2 and 3 and better training for teachers should ensure Chinese culture and language are better integrated throughout compulsory education.

At the university level, the report suggests the Office for Students consider targetting funding to support degree-level Chinese Studies, to combat the shrinking student numbers that place many of these courses in peril. Universities, the report adds, must do more to codify their academic relationships with China, offering “transparency around donations and movements of money from external donors” and academic freedom.

“‘Regardless of the levels of scepticism or support for China’s activities today, there is an expert consensus that the UK lacks sufficient knowledge and understanding of China to make sensible decisions. This is an issue that is long overdue for being addressed,” said Michael Natzler, the report’s author.

“Early exposure to China in schools is vital for building a pipeline of China-literacy and increasing student numbers on Chinese Studies courses in higher education. While there are some promising Mandarin language programmes, there is a gaping hole in the curriculum for cultural study that could be filled by a new A-Level in Chinese Civilisation.”

In a foreword to the report, Rana Mitter, Professor of Chinese History and Politics at the University of Oxford, argued the reforms were vital for post-Brexit Britain’s foreign policy and economy.

“As in any democratic society, there will be varied views in the British public sphere on how to deal with China. Those views will often be robustly expressed, as is only right in a free society. But those conversations and debates can no longer afford to take in a swift and superficial view of China. The time to deepen the debate has surely arrived,” Prof Mitter wrote.

Read more: Review role of China in UK universities, Jo Johnson report urges

Related news: UK universities and China: new Hepi publication explores a complex relationship

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