KINGSTON, R.I. –March 15, 2007— The University of Rhode Island has become one of 20 Confucius Institutes in the United States and one of 150 in the world. This designation will promote and strengthen educational programs and exchanges between the University and China.
URI President Robert L. Carothers and Xu Lin, director of the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, signed the agreement in January. Plans call for an initial five-year agreement to be extended an additional five years.
“What most Americans know about China comes from the labels on the clothes and other goods they purchase from China, a market now exceeding $200 billion a year,” says URI President Robert L. Carothers. “Yet for many Americans, the real China remains a mystery. As China grows and prospers, it will become the United States’ chief competitor for resources. The reality is that what we don’t know can hurt us, especially in this complex relationship. To make that relationship work, we need to appreciate and understand each other, learning how to work together for our mutual benefit. The Confucius Institute will help us achieve that goal.”
“China is not only an awakening giant, it is a walking giant,” agrees Yan Ma, a professor in URI’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies and director of the new institute. Ma is the leading force in the Institute’s establishment. “News articles and scholars have documented China as a commercial giant and predict it will be the next superpower. URI’s Confucius Institute will help students become global citizens by offering programs that prepare them to speak Mandarin Chinese and understand the Chinese culture.”
URI’s Confucius Institute will receive $100,000 in seed money from the teaching office run by the Chinese government and is known as Hanban. The money will be used to support the Chinese language and culture programs. In addition, Hanban has agreed to fund two Chinese instructors for five years.
In addition, Hanban will donate 5,000 books, compact discs and digital video discs to the University Library and provide multimedia courseware and other teaching materials as well as online courses.
The University has more than 100 Chinese graduate students and 45 Chinese faculty members, research associates, and staff members. There are about 10,000 Chinese Americans living in Rhode Island.
The Confucius Institute strengthens the University’s connection with China. In 2003, URI students petitioned for Chinese language courses. The first Chinese language classes were offered in 2004. That same year, Yan Ma introduced Bahram Nasssersharif, dean of the College of Engineering and John Grandin, director of the International Engineering Program to officials at her alma mater, Zhejiang University, to explore a Chinese option for the University’s renowned International Engineering Program. The five-year program offers students dual degrees in a language and an engineering discipline. Students spend a year in the host country. Fourteen URI students spent seven weeks in China last summer in the first study tour. A group of engineering students will travel to China this summer.
In Fall 2006 Hanban provided funds to support a Chinese language instructor, Wen Xiong, to teach beginning and intermediate Chinese for three years. This was an unprecedented commitment, meaning that no other institute has received such funding. This semester, Xiong has 75 students enrolled in her courses.
Ma, also director of URI’s Global Education for Librarians and Information Professionals, launched a program to educate librarians and information professionals in the Chinese language and culture. It is the first such program in North America to train information professionals to provide services related to China and Chinese studies. There is an ever increasing demand for these skills.
In addition, President Carothers is a member of the Global U8 Consortium, a group of eight universities from around the world formed to address emerging issues confronting the global community. The consortium includes Xiamen University in China. Carothers was recently elected chairman of the Global U8 Council of Presidents; his three-year term begins this April.
The Next Steps
• The College of Business Administration plans to launch an International Business Program, modeled after the International Engineering Program. A strong focus on China is planned.
• The Confucius Institute at URI will aid in the expansion of the U.S.-China Center for Research in Visual Information, Visual Literacy, and Global New Media. A collaboration between URI and Zhejiang University will result in joint research projects and scholarly exchange of the evolving and expanding internet-based formats that incorporate sound, image, text, and the internet network into a multimedia presentation.
• A summer program in China is being offered for the first time for Chinese librarianship. The three-credit graduate course offers participants a chance to learn about the types of libraries and librarianship in China.
• The Hanban Chinese Language Center will be established at URI to train teachers to teach Chinese in New England.
• The Confucius Institute will offer an intensive Chinese language and cultural program for American students planning to work or study in China. The program will be modeled after URI’s annual, six week German Summer School of the Atlantic, which has been held at the University for the past 27 years.
• The Confucius Institute will serve as a resource to recommend Chinese teachers and provide reference services and consulting for people who want to study or do business in China.
• The 2007 Honors Colloquium, China Rising, will focus on contemporary China with a semester-long series of public lectures this fall with corresponding film, photography, and textile exhibits as well as art performances.
“I would like to acknowledge that all these exciting and historic Chinese programs on campus are under the leadership, support and commitment of President Carothers and M. Beverly Swan, provost and vice president of academic affairs with the enthusiastic and strong support from Winifred Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, John Grandin, executive director of the International Engineering Program, and Mark Higgins, dean of the College of Business Administration,” says Ma.
SEALING THE DEAL: Madam Xu Lin, director of Hanban shakes hand with Robert Carothers, president of URI after signing an agreement making URI a Confucius Institute. Photo courtesy of Yan Ma