Four years ago, Nordland County Municipality and several companies in the North of Norway signed a cooperation agreement with Zhejiang Province in China with a letter of intent for more than NOK 2 billion in fisheries, tourism, aquaculture technology, and education. The agreement meant that Aust-Lofoten upper secondary school for four years has taught its upper secondary students Chinese but from the fall that will stop, NRK reports.
County council leader Tomas Norvoll says that there was not enough interest in the rest of the county to maintain the offer but Hugo Bjørnstad, former principal at Aust-Lofoten upper secondary school believes that Nordland County Municipality has not done its job of fulfilling the cooperation agreement between China and Nordland on the education front.
Hugo Bjørnstad helped sign the agreement on behalf of the regions of Lofoten and Vesterålen and he believes that Nordland County’s municipality has not specified exactly what they really wanted out of the cooperation agreement.
Also, the newly hired Chinese lecturer Xiaojuan Song believes it is incomprehensible that the offer of Chinese lesions is now gone. “Nordland county has strong connections with China. It is important that students in this region get an opportunity to learn the Chinese language and culture,” she says.
So far, 41 students in Vågan municipality have had Chinese in upper secondary school and had the opportunity to continue in upper secondary school. County council leader Tomas Norvoll says that time will tell if the offer can be resumed at Aust-Lofoten upper secondary school or if other institutions can provide the same education.
Tomas Norvoll also points to the relationship with China from a national perspective. He mentions two reasons why interactions with Zhejiang Province have not been as intense as they had expected them to be and says that for one, there have been several cases where Chinese organizations were not allowed to expand and that has caused friction.
He also points out that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a stopper because the interaction between regions actually requires that actors have the opportunity to interact with each other, he says.
Across Europe, so-called Confucius Institutes – state-sponsored language and cultural institutions that provide instruction in Chinese abroad have closed down. When asked if an important element in the assessment has been that many believe that these institutes are part of China’s “soft influence policy” towards the West, Tomas Norovoll says, “From our point of view there is no basis for having Chinese as a language in high school right now. But that can change. I think it depends very much on how big the interactions between Norway and China will be, and how it will be between Nordland and Zhejiang province in the future.”