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The Associated Press July 30, 2010, 10:50AM ET

Dickinson State, NDSU seeking stronger China ties

Dickinson State University and North Dakota State University have been granted permission to establish "Confucius Institutes" on their campuses to encourage study of Chinese languages and culture.

The Chinese government's education ministry has pushed the idea among U.S. universities, and offers financial aid to help institutes get started. More than 60 colleges have Confucius Institutes, named for a renowned Chinese philosopher, including the University of Minnesota and the University of Montana.

North Dakota's Board of Higher Education approved requests Thursday from Dickinson State and North Dakota State to host the institutes. Both colleges will be eligible for up to $100,000 in aid in the first year to purchase equipment, and the program also provides books and teaching materials.

Micheal Hillman, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for North Dakota's university system, said the institutes would offer continuing education, a resource library and a place to inquire for students interested in studying in China. The institutes are not formal academic departments and will not grant degrees, he said.

"The intent is ... to provide a broader explanation of Chinese language and culture, and have the curricular materials and other background information broadly available," Hillman said.

North Dakota State officials said the institute would help local students and business people gain greater knowledge of China. The state's trade with China has grown by about 50 percent in the last five years, according to the North Dakota Trade Office.

"Having students trained in the Chinese language and culture will make them more marketable to companies interested in doing business with China," North Dakota State said in its Board of Higher Education request to establish the program.

The institutes in both Fargo and Dickinson are expected to work closely with other local schools. Among North Dakota's public schools, only Fargo North and Fargo South high schools offer Chinese classes, which started during the last academic year and were taught by the same instructor.

Dickinson State already has about 250 Chinese among its more than 2,700 students, and the school has established study-abroad programs with 15 Chinese universities.

In Missoula, Mont., the Confucius Institute at the University of Montana offers Mandarin language instruction to high school students online and classes at local high schools.

The University of Minnesota's institute, which was founded two years ago, does a majority of its work with Minnesota public schools, said its director, Joan Brzezinski.

"I think we have been extraordinarily well received," she said.

About 50 Minnesota school districts offer Chinese language classes, and the institute has worked with more than 20 of them, offering language instruction and training for teachers, Brzezinski said. A handful of North Dakota teachers have attended training sessions, she said.

"The teachers are very devoted and very passionate people," she said. "You can't get a more passionate teacher than a language teacher, and you can't get a more passionate language teacher than a Chinese language teacher."

The Minnesota institute has also hosted or helped to organize events, including Chinese opera, a dance troupe, summer camps and a cultural variety show, she said.

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