The British Academy responds to HEPI report calling for action to improve knowledge of China and Mandarin

31 Mar 2022

The British Academy today welcomes a new report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) calling for action to improve ‘China competence’ and knowledge of Mandarin in the UK.

Understanding China: The study of China in UK schools and universities, by Michael Natzler, reviews the current state of teaching and research on China in UK schools and universities. The report reveals a consensus among UK-China policy experts, the government and academics that addressing the UK’s deficit in China literacy and Mandarin speakers should be a priority.

In response to the report, Professor Neil Kenny FBA, Lead Fellow for Languages at the British Academy, said:

“This timely report by HEPI echoes many of the British Academy’s concerns about the UK’s under-performance when it comes to language skills, including in languages that are strategically vital but not widely studied. Given the pressing need to understand China, Mandarin is a prime example. As the report shows, language skills give access to in-depth understanding of cultures and societies. The Mandarin Excellence Programme, which now has over 5,000 pupils from 75 schools in England on track to fluency, shows that innovative and targeted measures can greatly improve take-up. But more action, supported by government, is needed in schools and universities across the UK.

“As the British Academy has long argued, language skills are essential for effective international cooperation – including in global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic – and commercial links, as well as for improving educational performance, cognitive function, intercultural understanding and social cohesion. Meanwhile, the economic returns to the UK from additional investment in language education have been shown to be very substantial.

“Despite this, the number of students taking foreign languages has plummeted in recent years, leading to the closure and downsizing of many university languages departments. This has particularly impacted students from disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom access to local languages education is often limited. In 2020, the British Academy and partners published Towards a National Languages Strategy, which set out measures for reviving language learning in the UK. We will continue to explore how the languages education community and government can together help boost uptake of all languages and forge the skills base we need for the UK to be truly globally engaged.”

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