It’s no secret that USF has been ambitious lately on a number of fronts – from prioritizing neonatal care and diabetes research to collaborating with SRI International and Merck & Co. to establishing the Patel Center for Global Solutions.
Now add one more: the Confucius Institute.
These are Chinese language and culture institutes on college campuses that are formally sponsored by the government of China. Each one is a collaboration with a Chinese counterpart. There are about 150 worldwide and 30 in the U.S. This is the first for Florida.
The competition is keen to land one. Among those also actively interested: the University of Florida, Florida International University and the University of Miami.
“The Chinese have thought this through carefully,” assesses USF Dean of International Affairs Maria Crummett. “Education is absolutely critical to the Chinese. They’re looking to establish a global presence in multiple ways. They also value people-to-people diplomacy.”
After about a year of negotiations and an on-site visit from the Chinese consulate in Houston, USF was selected to pair up with Nankai University in Tianjin. This will be the second U.S. affiliation for Nankai, which has had an ongoing relationship with USF for some 25 years. Nankai’s other U.S. partner is the University of Maryland.
“At USF, we are an institution that is globally engaged,” explains Crummett. “We’re in an era where education — by definition — is global. So, the Confucius Institute is part of our strategic focus. If we’re not educating our students about China and India, we’re doing them a disservice. We are preparing the global workforce of the future.”
According to Crummett, the manifest interest from faculty, students, researchers, the business community, regional campuses and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce carried the day on the consulate’s site visit in early fall. “From the beginning, we were overwhelmed by faculty interest,” recalls Crummett. “And like any university, faculty members don’t need more meetings! And then we were stunned by the community interest and support.”
The Chinese government will commit $100,000 a year for at least three years. USF will provide space and personnel resources that will more than match the Chinese funding. Among USF’s foremost priorities: providing Chinese language instruction for K-12 teachers.
“USF will certify instructors,” emphasizes Crummett. “This has statewide implications.”
Initially, the Confucius Institute will be housed in a suite of offices on the fourth floor of Cooper Hall. Ultimately it would seek space in whatever is built out for the Patel Center. Courses will be offered starting this February when several Nankai professors arrive.
Among the first students: Crummett. She’s already signed up for Mandarin Chinese.