Harvard moves Chinese language programme to Taiwan

Harvard Beijing Academy becomes Harvard Taipei Academy, amid concern about friendliness and accommodation

October 11, 2021
Taipei night market
Source: iStock

Harvard University is to move its intensive Chinese-language programme to Taiwan due to alleged difficulties operating in mainland China.

From 2022, what was formerly the Harvard Beijing Academy, taught at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), will continue in partnership with the prestigious National Taiwan University under the name Harvard Taipei Academy.

Jennifer Liu, the programme’s director and head of Chinese languages at Harvard, told student newspaper The Harvard Crimson that the move reflected what she felt was a less friendly environment for US institutions in China in recent years.

For instance, she said that in 2019, the programme’s host institution BLCU said the academy’s students could not hold a holiday party – a small affair that involved eating pizza and singing the US national anthem – to commemorate US Independence Day on 4 July.

She also listed quality concerns, including access to classrooms and dormitories, telling the Crimson that BLCU was unable to house the programme’s students – who numbered roughly 80, according to an alumnus – together.

“Given the conditions they provided, we really couldn’t run the programme with the quality that we are hoping to deliver to our students,” said Professor Liu.

Professor Liu sought to allay concerns that the change in location would disadvantage its participants. “No matter where the programme is located, we are very confident that they will get the most out of it,” she said.

According to Harvard Summer School, the programme has the “same rigorous language curriculum while also affording [students] the opportunity to immerse yourself in the dynamic and diverse society and culture of Taiwan”.

Like its mainland predecessor, the Harvard Taipei Academy will offer students a chance to complete a year’s worth of Chinese language study over a summer term. Set to open on 24 June, it includes five hours of Chinese-language tuition on weekdays.

It also promises students accommodation in “comfortable rooms with private bathrooms in a modern student residence building adjacent to the NTU campus”.

A Harvard spokesman said: “The planned move of this programme from Beijing to Taiwan has been considered for some time and reflects a wide array of operational factors. The programme’s new location presents a different opportunity for our instructors and learners to broaden their educational experiences. We look forward to continuing to build what has become an excellent programme for students.”

On 14 October, Zhou Xin, director of the international admissions at BLCU who oversaw the Chinese language programme at the Harvard Beijing Academy, wrote to THE disputing Professor Liu’s statements, which he said came as a “shock”.

Dr Zhou denied Professor Liu’s claims that students had been unable to celebrate 4 July and said that he was previously unaware of any problems Harvard may have had with the Beijing-based programme.

Harvard University and Professor Liu declined to comment further.


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