President Peter Stoicheff and Lin Xu, chief executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters
President Peter Stoicheff and Lin Xu, chief executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters

Academic freedom cornerstone of new U of S Confucius Institute agreement

The University of Saskatchewan has signed an unprecedented agreement with the Confucius Institute Headquarters that protects academic freedom and transparency in the activities of the U of S Confucius Institute (CI), a centre that promotes cultural and academic co-operation between China and Canada.

The five-year renewal agreement also stipulates that the activities of the CI will respect U of S institutional values, priorities and policies, and that the U of S will maintain control over the hiring, curriculum and academic practices of the CI.

“We see the institute as important in continuing to build ties between the Canadian and Chinese educational systems. It will benefit U of S students who want to learn more about Chinese language and culture, and participate in cultural exchanges,” said U of S Vice-President Research Karen Chad, who oversaw the negotiations over several months in which both teams were able to find common ground.

“These revisions ensure that academic freedom and transparency continue to be embraced and enshrined as fundamental principles of the CI, and that its activities continue to align with the university’s academic mission, principles, and practices.”

The renewal agreement was signed recently in Beijing by U of S President Peter Stoicheff and Lin Xu, chief executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters and director general of Hanban, the executive body of the Chinese Language Council International which is a non-profit organization affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education.

“We look forward to strengthening our relationship with the U of S and to sharing our culture so that we better understand one another,” said Xu, following the signing ceremony. She described the CI as an important “bridge” linking Canada and China.

Under a related agreement signed between President Stoicheff and Haiyan Hu, president of the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), BIT will continue to be the U of S CI’s academic partner in China. That agreement outlines how U of S and BIT—one of China’s top universities and already one of the university’s flagship academic partners in China—will co-manage the academic activities of the CI through a 10-member board that includes a co-director from each institution.

After wide consultation earlier this year, a CI Working Group struck by Chad found no evidence of academic freedom or university autonomy being compromised, nor of control of participants, the curriculum or other CI activities. The task force group did, however, recommend that these principles be made explicit in the agreement, and that the centre’s governing body should regularly review the institute’s operations to ensure these principles are upheld.

One of more than 500 CIs in almost 140 countries around the world, the U of S CI offers non-credit Chinese language and culture courses to students of the U of S and local schools, and co-ordinates educational and research scholarships and study tours in China. For instance, in June, 20 Indigenous students spent two weeks on a China study tour that involved visits to major cities and many cultural sites. For more information and to view the agreements, visit the U of S Confucius Institute website at: http://confuciusinstitute.usask.ca/

President Stoicheff also signed four other agreements while in China:

  • The first U of S collaboration agreement with Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in Wuhan that will support faculty and student exchange, joint exhibitions and joint academic programming, formalizing the U of S’s relationship with one of the top fine arts institutions in China
  • Entered into a new agreement with Beijing Normal University to offer a collaborative doctoral scholarship program including tuition bursaries and entrance scholarships for China Scholarship Council-funded PhD students
  • Renewed an agreement with flagship partner Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan for a PhD scholarship program
  • Renewed a student exchange agreement with Hong Kong Baptist University, providing opportunities for U of S undergrads to experience education in one of the most dynamic cities in Asia

The trip also included meeting with two major alumni groups in Hong Kong and Beijing. The latter event was held jointly with University of Regina and Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who was on a trade mission to China, also spoke at the event.

Currently, the U of S has more than 65 agreements and research contracts with 44 Chinese institutions. More than 40 per cent of U of S international students come from China.

In 2016, 235 U of S students and staff participated in language classes, cultural class, summer study tours, and business language and culture training. Annually, the Confucius Institute teaches 300-500 elementary students in public school division in the mini language courses.

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