New Confucius Institute Expands W&M’s Global Reach

A new institute devoted to promoting Chinese language and culture will enable the College of William and Mary to expand its global reach and strengthen its focus on internationalization in the 21st century.

The Confucius Institute at William & Mary (WMCI), a collaborative program in partnership with Beijing Normal University (BNU) and the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), will work with the College to offer Chinese language and culture courses, provide teacher training, and support study abroad, officials announced Tuesday. Included in this institute will be a new partnership with local school districts and educational opportunities with higher education institutions throughout Virginia.

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“We are delighted to partner with Beijing Normal University and to prepare our students to be leaders in a rapidly changing global society,” said Provost Michael R. Halleran. “By fusing together some of our strongest academic assets, and at the same time showcasing the College’s role as a resource for the Commonwealth, the Confucius Institute is an obvious next step to enhancing William & Mary’s international reach.”

Beijing Normal University is one of the top 10 universities in China with 16 top-ranking degree programs, including education, psychology, Chinese and math. The university is also one of the oldest in China, founded in 1902. Since the program started in 2004, more than 300 Confucius Institutes have been opened worldwide, according to Hanban, the Beijing-based agency that oversees them. Regionally, William & Mary joins George Mason University, the University of Maryland and North Carolina State, all of which have established Confucius Institutes. As with these other institutions, Hanban provided $150,000 in startup funds and will also provide annual support for the Institute, which will be centrally located on campus in close proximity to the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies.

“I am truly excited to support the development of the new Confucius Institute at William & Mary,” said Stephen Hanson, the College’s new vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center. Hanson helped implement a Confucius Institute while vice provost for global affairs at the University of Washington. “Understanding China’s role in the world in the 21st century is more important than ever before, and the Confucius Institute we are building in partnership with Beijing Normal University will make a vital contribution to the College in this respect,” he said.

The establishment of a Confucius Institute is the latest effort in a series of initiatives at the College to increase internationalization within the curriculum: 

  • This fall, the College launches the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program, a new multidisciplinary initiative that encompasses the languages and cultures practiced by more than half the world’s populations.
  • Last week, 30 first-year students arrived on campus as part of the first cohort of the College’s new joint degree program with the University of St Andrews.  The program is one of the few of its kind in the world and allows students to spend two years at each institution to complete a joint degree in one of four fields: economics, English, history and international relations.
  • William & Mary is establishing a new pilot program geared toward expanding educational partnerships between the United States and India.
  • In addition to new programs, the College’s student body continues to become more diverse with more international students than ever enrolled for the 2011-12 academic year. The Class of 2015 has a record number of international students, making up 6 percent of this year’s incoming class.
  • The College is a leader in the education of Foreign Service members, Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright Scholars.

Interest in Chinese language study at William & Mary has increased dramatically in the last decade, a national trend among U.S. colleges and universities. As part of the Confucius partnership, two professors and three graduate teaching assistants will be sent by Beijing Normal University to William & Mary annually to teach Chinese language and cultural courses at the College and in the community.  One of those professors will serve as the Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute and work closely with a William & Mary faculty member who will serve as the Director of the WMCI. An advisory board comprised of faculty and staff from the College and BNU will select the Director.

The Institute builds upon the strong foundation of William & Mary’s Chinese Language and Culture Program, established more than three decades ago, said Chinese Studies Professor Yanfang Tang. The program provides students with extensive course offerings, cutting-edge study abroad initiatives and the skills to speak, read, write and understand Chinese, she added.

“William & Mary has a long and successful record of producing students with strong Chinese linguistic and cultural competencies demanded by the job market,” said Tang. “Many have become leaders in private companies and in government organizations. The preparation William & Mary students receive at the College, further strengthened through the resources of the WMCI, will serve them well as both participants in the world market and as global citizens.”

The Institute will also serve as an important resource for the Commonwealth. Throughout Central and Southeastern Virginia, demand for Chinese language instruction is beginning to emerge at the K-12 level. For example, Virginia Beach and York County Public Schools offer Chinese courses at the high school and middle school levels, respectively. Qualified instructors to teach those courses are needed. In collaboration with William & Mary’s nationally ranked School of Education, the WMCI will provide certified teaching training and professional development for Chinese language teachers.

Community engagement, locally and throughout Virginia, is another core component of the WMCI.  The institute will assist in offering language courses in Williamsburg-James City County middle and high schools and also in the larger community. Community partners, such as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, will work with WMCI to organize Chinese cultural activities.

Later this fall, the College will announce details for a Confucius Institute opening ceremony.  The ceremony is slated to take place in 2012.