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Northern State University Pushing for Chinese, Cultural Language Center

PIERRE, S.D. — Northern State University is moving forward with plans to create a Chinese language and cultural center that will be the first of its kind in the Dakotas and that officials hope will give the state a link to China’s growing economy.

The South Dakota Board of Regents made funding for NSU’s proposed Confucius Center in Aberdeen its top priority on the list of one-time spending requests it sent the Legislature this week.

Legislators still must agree to fund the $400,000 request, but President James Smith said he’s confident school officials can make a strong case for the institute, which would make Northern State the only public school in South Dakota to offer Mandarin Chinese language courses.

“I’m hopeful that people will see it as the opportunity that I think that it is, which is to really expose South Dakota kids to … a really growing part of the world,” he said.

As of 2011, there were more than 350 Confucius Institutes in 104 countries, according to documents provided by the regents. The majority of U.S. states have at least one. If approved, the cultural center at Northern State would be one of the last in the country for now. The Institute will stop taking applications to partner with American institutions at the end of the year.

Northern State has been working with the University of Jinan for several months to establish a partnership.

Northern State could be the first university in the Dakotas to have a Confucius Institute, but it isn’t the first to vie for one.

The North Dakota Board of Higher Education gave Dickinson State University permission to establish a partnership with a Chinese university and set up a Confucius Institute, but it never happened. A majority of faculty members had voted against the idea and state officials had also found that the university had given Chinese exchange students hundreds of unearned diplomas.

Northern State stopped offering Mandarin language courses in 1996. Smith said the Institute would be especially valuable for students in the school’s Center for Excellence in International Business, who can already travel to China to study abroad but often face a language barrier.

“Obviously, if you’re an international business major, you realize that China is a huge market,” he said.

Smith will travel to Jinan and Shanghai with several of his colleagues after the next Board of Regents meeting in October to discuss funding with Chinese education officials. Northern State has asked the regents to help fund one year of the institute. Future years would be supported by the school’s Chinese counterparts.

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