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Friday, October 23, 2015, 09:02

Xi hails role of Confucius institutes

By WU JIAO and CECILY LIU in London

Xi hails role of Confucius institutes

President Xi Jinping attends the UK Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms Annual Conference.( Photo / Xinhua)

The choice of business focus traces back to the institute's founding director Peter Buckley, a professor of international business at Leeds, who has been instrumental in developing links with Beijing's University of International Business and Economics, the school's Chinese partner.

"The Confucius Institutes are a bridge for mutual learning and understanding," said Hinrich Voss, executive director of business institute.

Since the institute's opening in 2012, student numbers have grown to nearly 400. Among those it serves are businesses whose employees want to study Mandarin.

The increasing popularity of Mandarin study coincides with an initiative from the British government to give the language more importance in the British education system. After returning from a trip to China in 2013, UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged students to move away from French and German and start studying Chinese.

"By the time the children born today leave school, China is set to be the world's largest economy," he said. "So it's time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin."

Now around 600 primary and middle schools in the UK offer Mandarin classes. Cameron said he hoped the number of students would increase to 400,000 by 2016.

The language learning trend has also extended to leaders in business and education. One example is Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield. Burnett is chairman of the Confucius Institute in Sheffield and a Mandarin speaker.

"There has never been a more important time for the people of the United Kingdom to reach out the hand of friendship to China. Whether it is collaboration on low-carbon energy or a desire to share cultural insights, we are remaining true to the teachings of Confucius," he said, by getting together "in the spirit of mutual understanding".

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