China’s Confucius Institutes have come under suspicion in various countries, with several ending the language-learning programs, providing Taiwan with an opportunity to fill the gap in the global Chinese education market, academics said on Sunday.
China has opened 541 Confucius Institutes attached to academic institutions in 162 countries, online data showed, but in the past few years, various countries have been shutting down the programs due to concerns over their political intent and infringements on academic freedom.
Former US president Donald Trump’s administration in August last year designated the Confucius Institute US Center a foreign mission of the Chinese Communist Party, and New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, ended its agreement with the program in 2019.
However, Taiwanese academics said that global demand for Mandarin education persists, and Taiwan has an opportunity to fill the gap.
Tsai Ya-hsun (蔡雅勳), chair of National Taiwan Normal University’s (NTNU) Department of Chinese as a Second Language, on Sunday said that Taiwan can offer high-quality Mandarin education, subsidize overseas trips by teachers and certify language instructors.
Tamkang University Chinese Language Center is partnering with the US on Mandarin training programs, center director Chou Hsiang-hua (周湘華) said.
Over the past decade, recruitment of Mandarin students from overseas has been growing steadily, NTNU Mandarin Training Center executive director Chen Jenn-yeu (陳振宇) said.
Student numbers peaked in 2019 with 8,400 to 8,500 students, he said.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on travel, there were still 7,800 to 7,900 students last year, he said, adding that some were foreign students unable to travel due to the pandemic.
Well-known universities are also targeting Taiwan, with 10 University of Cambridge students enrolling through a special program last year, he said.
This year, the University of Oxford is sending more than 30 language students to Taiwan, he added.
The government should open the nation to Mandarin students, as the nation’s 60 Mandarin learning centers would be prepared to meet demand, he said.
The pandemic will eventually end and the Chinese-speaking population will still be the largest in the world, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University Language Teaching and Research Center lecturer Vickie Zheng (鄭彩娥) said.
After the closure of Confucius Institutes, demand for learning Chinese would still exist, she said, adding that based on her experience, many students who arrive in Taiwan as exchange students later return to obtain a degree.
Some have been unable to start school on time due to the pandemic, and although online learning has been made available, in-person instruction offers a different experience, she added.
By teaching foreign students Mandarin, Taiwan is building a network, which would help develop its international status, she said.
The Ministry of Education said it has been selecting more than 200 Mandarin teachers each year to teach in 15 countries abroad over the past few years.
The Office of Global Mandarin Education was established in 2016 to integrate domestic Chinese education resources, handle international marketing and promotion, and promote domestic Mandarin teaching and proficiency tests, the Department of International and Cross-strait Education said.
As of last year, nearly 400,000 Chinese proficiency tests have been taken, it said.
To expand into the overseas market, the ministry also offers subsidies to universities to develop Mandarin teaching locations and set up Taiwanese education centers overseas, it said.
It has also developed a set of digital teaching materials called “Huayu 101” and two comprehensive open online courses, and signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to cooperate on a global Mandarin digital education center to offer three free Mandarin courses through the online edX platform, it said.
Additional reporting by Rachel Lin
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