File photo of the University of Edinburgh. (Provided to China Daily)
A university has defended China's contribution to education in Scotland after concerns were raised about undue influence after Confucius Institute funded a new project at Edinburgh Zoo.
A University of Edinburgh spokesman said the university’s partnership with Confucius Institute, a non-profit public educational organization connected to China’s Ministry of Education that promotes Chinese language and culture, contributes to open debate, alongside the university’s efforts to promote cultural outreach and dialogue.
“There has been no loss of academic freedom, nor inhibition of academic debate at the University of Edinburgh as a consequence of China’s support for the Confucius Institute,” the spokesman said.
The debate arose after Confucius Institute said it will provide a native Chinese teacher to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the owners of Edinburgh Zoo, which is home to two pandas, also made available by China.
Ross Greer, a member of the Scottish Parliament, told The Herald newspaper that the extension of the influence of the Confucius Institute, to Edinburgh Zoo, was an alarming sign of how Scotland is subject to the soft power of China.
Greer criticized the function of Confucius Institutes by saying that the institutes are used to stifle criticism of the Chinese state, typically within universities, across the world.
But the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which is also known as RZSS, said funding from the Confucius Institute will provide new opportunities to enhance conservation work.
“This will allow us to further promote and facilitate the learning and teaching of Chinese language and culture,” said Sandie Robb, senior education officer at RZSS. “We are so pleased to have it up and running now to help enhance and further develop this education program linking science with language.”
Barbara Smith, RZSS chief executive, said: “We will now be able to provide after-school Mandarin sessions for families, as well as lunchtime sessions for staff here at the zoo, giving many more people an opportunity to learn and engage with the language, and to promote our conservation messages.”
The Confucius Institute, which is connected to several Scottish universities, including Edinburgh and Strathclyde, promotes Chinese language and culture abroad. Currently, there are 29 Confucius Institutes and 148 Confucius Classrooms in the UK.