UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass and China in New Partnership

Photo by William Wright
Photo by William Wright

UMass President Jack Wilson, Board of Trustees Chairman Stephen Tocco, UMass Boston Chancellor Michael Collins, MD and Director General of Hanban Xu Lin officially announced the opening of the University of Massachusetts Confucius Institute on Nov. 20th.

“This new partnership that we recognize today is an extension of the University’s longstanding efforts to facilitate educational and cultural exchanges throughout the world,” Wilson said in the press release. “Clearly, in an increasingly interconnected world, it is essential that we prepare our students to compete successfully in the global marketplace.”

This Confucius Institute is the seventh in the US and the first in the northeast. The institutes are created to teach the Chinese language, train teachers of Chinese, and help develop curriculums and cultural events. In addition, they serve to educate the community and provide a place for research of the Chinese language and culture.

UMass Boston has signed 11 cooperative agreements with Chinese academic partners, and will integrate the Confucius Institute with the China Center Program, which is housed in the Division of Corporate, Continuing and Distance Education.

“UMass Boston has nearly a dozen academic partnerships with Chinese institutions and has developed programs that allow our students and the business community to connect with China and the many opportunities it presents,” Collins said in the press release. “This partnership with Hanban and the Confucius Institute’s focus on Chinese language and culture will make our existing relationships stronger and present many new opportunities to serve our students and the Boston area.”

Hanban, the office of the Chinese Language Council International, develops the Confucius Institutes for China, and plans to have 100 institutes established worldwide by 2010. Massachusetts already offers more Mandarin courses in its public schools than any other state and, with this partnership, UMass will develop a licensure program to further develop the practices of Mandarin teachers.

“The University of Massachusetts plays an important role in the economic and cultural life of the state,” Lin said in the press release. “Already, UMass is engaged in partnerships with universities and other institutions in China and is providing much-needed assistance to the Massachusetts business community exploring potential opportunities in China. Massachusetts is also taking a leadership role in Chinese language instruction in its public schools. These strong ties to Chinese institutions, culture and language, will support a vibrant UMass Confucius Institute located at UMass Boston.”

The concept of the Confucius Institute is not a new one, as the government of China wanted to develop a way for their culture to reach the rest of the world.

“They started this about three years ago as a central government effort to try to make people see China as an important cultural source to the rest of the world, because they see themselves as we do, as emerging world leaders,” Dirk Messelaar, Dean of Corporate, Continuing and Distance Education, said. “[China] now has the third-largest economy in the world, has 1.3 billion people, it’s very important in terms of, socio-politically, to help balance some US political interests, so China is seen as not only an economic, but an important political partner to try and maintain stability in the world. Academically, their interests lie in world universities; there are 143 Confucius institutes in the world, seven being in the US, and these institutes are funded by Chinese Ministry of Education money and they work off of different models, but the intent is to promote Chinese language and culture.”

The Chinese government will be paying $1 million over a three-year period into the institute, which will go to enriching the curriculum.

“UMass Boston has three primary focuses: one is that we expect to use the money from China and invest that in our faculty developing more courses in Chinese culture and language, all of this support a newly-proposed Bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies that the College of Liberal Arts has developed,” Messelaar said. “The money will also will also be used to develop programs to produce more secondary teachers of Mandarin. Students who graduate as teachers of Mandarin would be able to not only teach at schools in Massachusetts, but also in 36 other school systems in the US.”

In order to establish the institute, the university had to respond to a request sent out by Hanban looking for schools that were interested.

“The request for proposals was sent out about two years ago, and we were one of the first to respond to it in the US,” Messelaar said. “I wrote the proposal for the Confucius Institute last fall, and it was funded in July. We are just now launching the institute, and it is for the entire UMass system, but it’s headquartered here at UMass Boston. Since the application was granted to us last summer, we’ve also created a number of credit courses and we’ve started work on this licensure for teachers. We had Chinese life sciences companies come and speak to Massachusetts life sciences companies at our campus. Also, we’ve held a conference of 30 deans of higher education from around the US, along with 30 deans of higher education from China to talk about programs we can do with each other to try to foster more American professors and students going to China, and more Chinese professors and students coming to America.”

The collaboration between China and UMass Boston proves to be a heavily anticipated one, providing many professors and students with opportunities that would not otherwise arise.

“These courses at UMass Boston now will be influenced by Chinese professors, students and government officials who are not only giving us money,” Messelaar said. “They’re going to give us books and artifacts and resources from China, so we have a well-informed program that isn’t just developed by an American professor who knows something about China. It’s a collaboration between American professors with expertise in China and Chinese professors so the two of them can bring forward to UMass Boston a really well-informed and rich course that otherwise wouldn’t be possible if the Chinese weren’t involved.”