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Calls for China-competency boost in UK education

The report explores the current state of teaching and research of China in UK schools and universities. Photo: Unsplash

There are just hundreds of China and Mandarin students in the UK's higher education

The Understanding China: The Study of China and Mandarin in UK schools and universities report explores the current state of teaching and research of China in UK schools and universities, and includes interviews with over 40 individuals from education, government and business.

The report, written by Michael Natzler and sponsored by the University of St Andrews, reveals a clear imbalance between China’s understanding of the UK and the UK’s understanding of China within its education system and suggests the government in London publish a strategy to tackle the issue.

It also recommends a “small pot of funding be made available to support the training of schoolteachers in modules that cover modern China” and that “the Department for Education should ensure there will continue to be a suitable Level 3 qualification for school leavers and support the introduction of an A-Level in Chinese Civilisation”.

While there are tens of millions of speakers and learners of English in China, there are just hundreds of China and Mandarin students in the UK’s higher education. Despite the growing importance of China since the start of the 21st century, the number of Chinese Studies students has decreased in the past 25 years, the report noted.

This is reflected in the decline of Chinese Studies departments offering single-honours undergraduate degrees, which decreased by around one-third from 13 to nine between 2019 and 2020.

In a webinar to launch the report, Jo Johnson, former universities minister, called for “international openness” describing Natzler’s recommendations as “sensible” and “deliverable”.

Johnson urged the Office for Students to ensure UK students have routes to study China, especially as the Pre-U qualification in Mandarin and Chinese ends next year, leaving an A-level language route which many believe is not effective for non-native speakers of the language.

Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford, highlighted the “mutual benefit” of increased student mobility between the countries, noting that the potential of the sector will not be fulfilled until there is more access to China for study abroad and language classes.

Despite the growing importance of China since the start of the 21st century, the new report is the first review into the state of Chinese studies in higher education since the late 1990s.

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