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China to sponsor institute at UMass

It will promote language, culture

The University of Massachusetts and the Chinese Ministry of Education plan to announce today the formation of a nonprofit public institute to promote the teaching and understanding of Chinese language and culture.

The University of Massachusetts Confucius Institute would be the seventh such institute in the country and the first sponsored by China in New England. China, which plans to create 100 institutes worldwide by 2010, has given UMass a $1 million grant to start its institution. It will be on the Boston campus.

"We've had an interest on campus of expanding more broadly and offering international learning opportunities for our students," Michael F. Collins, chancellor of UMass-Boston, said in an interview yesterday. "Here's a chance now to develop educational opportunities around language and culture."

University officials believe the Bay State is fertile ground for an institute, with interest in learning Chinese language and culture starting to flourish. Fifty-five public and private schools in Massachusetts offer Mandarin courses, which university officials say is the largest number nationwide . Mandarin is the official dialect of China and is spoken by the majority of the population.

Massachusetts also has seen the openings in recent years of schools that offer Chinese language and culture courses to families in such towns as Acton, Andover, Bedford, and Winchester. Those schools are popular among Chinese families who have moved to the suburbs and non-Chinese parents who have adopted children from China and want them to understand and appreciate their native culture and language.

The university estimates that the state will need nearly 400 teachers of Mandarin in the next three years. Less than 2 percent of the state's population is Chinese.

"China has the fastest-growing economy and is on track to be one of the three largest economies in the world," said Jack M. Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts. "Chinese has to be at the top of the list of languages to study."

The institute will offer courses in Mandarin, train teachers of Mandarin, and develop curriculums and cultural events. It also will provide learning opportunities for the community, and a platform for research into Chinese language and culture.

The institute will be located in the McCormack building, and has a staff of three -- a director, an associate director, and an administrative assistant. It will be integrated into the China Program Center in the Division of Corporate, Continuing, and Distance Education. Wilson said the institute initially will serve a few hundred students, but should grow to thousands .

Strengthening the university system's ties with China has been a top priority for Wilson, who traveled to China last month with a delegation of state education and business leaders to meet with senior Chinese officials and business leaders.

UMass-Boston has signed cooperative agreements with 11 Chinese academic partners in recent years to promote academic exchanges, foreign study opportunities, and management training. The Chinese government will pay for 100 scholarships for a three-week cultural program in China. Wilson said he would like students to study in China for a semester or longer.

"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," Xu Lin , director general of Hanban, the government office of the Chinese Language Council International, said in a statement.

Wilson said forming a formal partnership with a foreign government was not unusual for the university system, noting that similar arrangements exist with Germany, South Africa, and a variety of Latin American countries. He said the university system and China had decided to have the institute at the Boston campus because "Boston, in some sense, is the capital city of New England."

James Chuang, principal of the Lexington Chinese School, which started more than 30 years ago and is located at Belmont High School, said he sees growing demand in the suburbs for Chinese language classes and cultural understanding. He said some public schools that started classes in recent years are interested in expanding into middle schools, but can't find enough licensed teachers .

"I have received many e-mails asking for assistance," he said, adding that the Confucius Institute "sounds like a great idea."

James Vaznis can be reached at

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