China Insight Foundation – Educational Small Group

China Insight Foundation – Educational Small Group

In contrast to the scenes depicted in the proposed exhibition of Pith paintings described as China Insight Foundation’s sister project, we recognize that the balance of power has shifted significantly over the past 40 years. Particularly when it comes to education. Simply put, the Chinese know more about us than we know about them. And that gives them a competitive advantage.

Right now, the British education sector is not equipping the UK with pupils and students with enough knowledge of China.

At a time when Britain is reconciling its role with the world post-Brexit and navigating our changing relationship with China, we (the British Government and the education sector) must ensure that there is a sufficient pipeline of people who can speak Mandarin and understand the depth and breadth of Chinese civilisations. The foundation of any national approach to China’s place in the world necessarily relies on understanding.

The decline has been going on for some time: in 1997, 300 undergraduates finished their Chinese Studies degree at a UK university. In 2020, by which time China had become the second largest economy in the world there were still just 300 Chinese Studies graduates each year, with few of them going onto China-focused jobs. Meanwhile, in schools there is rarely space for China on the curriculum, even on common A-level or GCSE subjects – History, Geography or Economics – and the number of students studying A-level Mandarin has been declining since 2015.

That is not to say there are not bright spots – the 5,000 students who have been given the opportunity to study Mandarin to GCSE are excelling on the Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP), but huge barriers exist for them to progress.  

Specifically, the MEP has a single core failing, which is that it cannot provide a continuous learning journey from early years through to university because of the break at the critical sixth-form level.

This view was recently reinforced by HEPI (‘the Higher Education Policy Institute) which published a paper surveying the state of China related education in the UK and endorsed the idea of a new A-level taught in English on the Chinese Civilization as one of its key recommendations. You can read the report in full here.

China Insight Foundation is developing a programme of work to bolster the opportunities available to young people to increase their understanding of China. The China Education Stream will draw on a partnership of leading academics on China, education sector experts and parliamentarians to deliver through school programmes and policy change opportunities for thousands more UK students to learn about China in their schools, to study Mandarin to a higher level and to build an ecosystem where China expertise can be mobilised in internships and work experience.

To find out more about how you can help CIF to develop these important education streams, please contact Sarah Slavin, CIF Development Director at  

China Insight Foundation – Educational Small Group