Politics

Chinese teaching groups in Tayside and Fife schools face ban

Chinese teaching groups in Tayside and Fife schools could be banned over claims they are a “danger to free thought”.

Tory leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak has vowed to close all 30 of the Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number of any country in the world.

The programmes promote Chinese language and culture abroad.

But north-east MP Andrew Bowie, who has backed the former chancellor to become the next prime minister, warned they ignore topics “inconvenient” to China’s ruling Communist Party.

Mr Sunak’s vow to close the groups could see him clash with the SNP since education is devolved to Holyrood.

It is not yet clear how any ban would work across Scottish universities and schools.

Aberdeen University.

Confucius Institutes were first launched by China in 2004 and have since been opened around the globe, with dozens now in Britain.

While the scheme is described by the Chinese government as a way for them to promote education in other countries, critics say it allows Beijing to peddle “soft power” abroad.

Since coming to Scotland the teaching groups have established links at schools all over the country, including in Fife, Angus, and Perth and Kinross.

Pupils in schools involved with the project can learn Mandarin and are given the opportunity to find out more about Chinese culture.

Teachers from China can spend some time in Scotland as part of an exchange scheme, while youngsters from schools here have been able to visit the Asian nation.

Fife’s Queen Anne High School, Carnoustie High School in Angus, and Kinross High School are among those who have partnered with the Confucius Institute.

‘Promoting Chinese soft power’

Writing on social media this week, Mr Sunak said: “I would close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world.

“Almost all UK Government spending on Mandarin language teaching at school is channelled through university-based Confucius Institutes, thereby promoting Chinese soft power.”

Aberdeenshire MP Mr Bowie added: “Universities must be protected from undue state influence and insidious doctrines which vie for the eyes and ears of students.

Andrew Bowie MP.

“Students simply seeking to learn Mandarin have been forbidden from engaging in topics inconvenient to the Chinese Community Party, such as its human rights record or treatment.”

In 2018, Nicola Sturgeon announced funding of more than £700,000 for the Confucius Institute school programme.

But since then, senior SNP figures – including Westminster defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald – have been critical of the scheme.

Stewart McDonald

Mr Sunak’s hardline position comes as he tries to outflank Tory leadership rival Liz Truss in the race to No 10.

During a heated BBC debate between the pair, Ms Truss said the ex-chancellor had been soft on China until recently.

Westminster relations with Beijing were much stronger than they are now just a few years ago when David Cameron was prime minister.

But the Conservative Party’s stance on Chinese president Xi Jinping’s government has since hardened following major crackdowns on protests in Hong Kong.

A Scottish Universities spokesperson said: “Universities engage with open eyes and due diligence, ensuring that their practice is consistent with academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

An Angus Council spokesperson said: “Carnoustie High School and Burnside Primary School continue to work in partnership with Scotland’s National Centre for Languages and the Confucius Institute for Scotland to deliver the teaching of Mandarin and the exploration of Chinese culture as part of the language learning entitlements for children and young people.”

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[Chinese teaching groups in Tayside and Fife schools face ban]

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