University of Kentucky to accept $1.7 million from Chinese government for Confucius Institute expansion

China’s Ministry of Education will provide $1.7 million to renovate more space for the University of Kentucky’s Confucius Institute.

UK has one of 110 such institutes in the United States and 500 around the world. The institutes are mostly financed by Hanban, as China’s Ministry of Education is named, to promote Chinese culture and language around the world.

UK’s Confucius Institute has three full-time staffers who are UK employees and between 8 and 10 staffers from Hanban and Shanghai University, UK’s Chinese counterpart in the partnership. Shanghai University frequently hosts UK faculty and students as well.

Susan Carvalho, associate provost for international programs, said UK was among 20 universities chosen by Hanban for new investments. The renovations will be on the ground floor of the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library, creating new classrooms, offices, a gallery and meeting space.

The Confucius Institute staff usually teach non-credit classes and Chinese language classes, Carvalho said. It facilitates symposiums with multiple scholars at UK. Institute staffers also work extensively in Kentucky’s K-12 schools, helping with cultural activities such as musical performances and celebrations. Hanban has placed 55 Chinese teachers in Kentucky schools.

Overall, Hanban provides about $500,000 a year in funding.

Last year, the American Association of University Professors, a national faculty group, raised questions about the autonomy of Confucius Institutes in the United States because some of the agreements with U.S. schools contained confidentiality clauses. UK appointed an audit committee from the University Senate, which gave UK’s Institute a clean bill of health.

Political science professor Ernest Yanarella served on that committee. He said faculty were most concerned about whether funding of the Confucius Institute would have the effect of suppressing controversial public or political issues about China at UK.

“The Chinese set the institutes up as a way of putting forward a positive image of the Chinese,” Yanarella said. “But the audit has assured the faculty that there is appropriate balance, and the scope of information, discussion and controversy is not being suppressed by the existence of the Confucius Institute on campus.”

Part of UK’s interest in China, as with many universities, is China’s new wealthy class who want to send their children to American colleges.

Carvalho said UK’s Confucius Institute fits in with numerous UK initiatives. They place student teachers in China and offer student travel overseen by UK faculty. The institute also helped with a partnership with Inner Mongolia University, another equine-obsessed culture, Carvalho said.

“There is almost no college that does not interface with our Confucius Institute,” she said. “It’s the jewel in the crown of our internationalization.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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