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Lessons from Abroad: The Growth of Chinese Education in Africa

Increasing numbers of Africans are choosing to learn Chinese, and China is responding rapidly by offering more scholarships and building educational institutes in Africa.  Professor Kenneth King, Emeritus Professor, University of Edinburgh, spoke at LIDC about this unique partnership between China and Africa ahead of next month’s joint review on China-Africa cooperation. He described Chinese plans to build another 500 Confucius Institutes to promote Chinese language and culture by 2020. King also highlighted some of the fundamental differences between the Chinese demand-driven cooperation policy versus a Western aid approach to African education. The event on 21 October, entitled China’s Cooperation In Education And Training With Africa: A Comparative Analysis, was co-coordinated by LIDC and the Africa Asia Centre, a collaboration between the Royal African Society and the School of Oriental and African Studies.

China-African cooperation
King compared the 2009 DFID White Paper Building Our Common Future with China’s African Policy and with the 2006 Beijing Action Plan; the latter will be reviewed by African leaders and their Chinese counterparts in Egypt on November 7-8, 2009. A discourse analysis of these documents showed how the UK paper emphasises Britain’s perception of its own central role in development compared to China’s preference for joint actions. King illustrated this by showing how China considers itself a “development partner”, with two-sided agreements and mutual, win-win cooperation. He said China pays relatively little attention to traditional donor interaction and the Millennium Development Goals; instead it claims to listen more to Africa’s demands. King added: “China prefers the discourse of South-South cooperation.”

African demand for Chinese lessons
According to King, while China is not typically recognised for its involvement in African education, it “operates in the request mode” and is responding to African demand for scholarships and capacity building in the education sector. The Beijing Plan, under the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) proposed to double to 4,000 the number of its long-term scholarships per year for African students to study in China. There is also a commitment to train 5,000 African professionals a year in short term training courses over the period 2007-9. In addition China has proposed the creation of 1,000 Confucius Institutes (CIs)  worldwide by 2020 (500 are due to be in operation by 2010). There is a  Chinese presence throughout the Institutes. Typically the Institutes have both African and Chinese deans and are supported  jointly by the African universities and by partner higher education institutions in China. This is to say that these CIs in Africa are not aid projects; the African universities provide accommodation for the classes and for the Chinese lecturers, as well as supporting part of the  CI lecturers’ salaries. The CI headquarters in Beijing provides a grant to each CI.

King suggested that the demand for Chinese language education is being driven by the high numbers of Chinese businessmen and the growing Chinese communities across Africa, as well as Chinese language and culture appealing to students. It has resulted in 10-12 language centres being set up in Nairobi alone.

A non-western approach
King explained that Chinese involvement in Africa remains minimal in terms of support to basic education and to volunteer work, where many western donors provide support. Instead, China’s approach is to focus on further and professional education and training. King believes that China’s contribution is different in the way it claims to listen to African needs. He said of the China-Africa relationship: “It is a mutually beneficial cooperation partnership, about respect and friendship between political equals.”
 
Full paper available from Professor Kenneth King, Emeritus Professor, University of Edinburgh (Kenneth.King@ed.ac.uk)
 
By Hannah Masters-Waage, LIDC