Study Chinese at Beijing universities

Time Out picks the top ten Chinese courses at Beijing universities.

There are language schools a-plenty in Beijing. If you’re really serious about learning Mandarin, however, consider heading to one of its many universities for courses that have stood the test of time. Most provide about three to four hours a day of language tuition over a minimum of one term. Time Out picks the best...
Locals call Beijing Foreign Studies University ‘the cradle of diplomats’. Luckily, BFSU students are so enthusiastic that we haven't had to be too diplomatic about the course that BFSU provides. BFSU describes itself as having an ‘attractive campus’ on its website. This actually means they’ve got a lot of new and modern facilities. Here at Time Out our personal favourite is the Olympic-sized swimming pool. The teachers at BFSU are as enthusiastic about Mandarin as the students, sometimes excessively so. BFSU is let down by its location, however. It’s far away from both Chaoyang and Wudaokou which means a taxi ride is needed to get to student nights out or other city hot spots.
Cost per term: 11,150RMB
What you get: great facilities, very dedicated teachers but a bad location.

Beijing International Studies University (BISU)
BISU was founded after a suggestion by Zhou Enlai that China needed more undergraduates learning foreign languages to gain prestige abroad. Unfortunately, increasing the prestige of other countries through Mandarin isn’t high enough on BISU’s agenda as the teaching is apparently not that great. There are large class sizes and there is little pressure on students to study. That said, BISU is well out of Wudakou and there are few foreigners around the campus so students might find their spoken Chinese improving out of necessity. It's also very easy to find Chinese friends at BISU thanks to the large number of students studying foreign cultures who want to practice foreign languages.
Cost per term: 11,000RMB
What you get: low-pressure Chinese classes with a large class size in a university with few foreigners.
Deep in the university heartland of Wudaokou, BLCU is one part of the city where foreigners outnumber Chinese students and almost everyone knows someone who’s studying there. Tilde Lewin, a former student of BLCU, says ‘The teachers are especially good at understanding difficulties for foreigners studying Chinese’. The number of foreign students might be the reason for the more laid-back attitude at BLCU and it definitely deserves its reputation as Beijing’s party university. If you want a more conservative approach to Mandarin learning then consider yourself warned. The large number of students also means it can be difficult to get one-on-one attention.
Cost per term: 11,600RMB
What you get: a good social life and a university that’s focused on teaching foreigners. Large class sizes are a distinct possibility however.
Although the ‘Normal‘ in the title may be slightly confusing (it stems from the old practice in China of calling institutions that train teachers ‘normal’ schools), BNU is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in China. Unfortunately, the teaching style doesn’t seem to have changed much since the university’s establishment in 1912. The emphasis is on rote learning and sticking inflexibly to a textbook the university supplies.
That said, there are some wonderful teachers at BNU. The university specialises in training teachers and it shows. Also, as boring as it may be, the rote-style teaching method has its benefits. If you want a good academic foundation in Chinese then BNU may just be the place for you.
Cost per term: 11,600RMB
What you get: a reputable university with good teachers, though an old fashioned course.
This university might be less well-known than others but don’t underestimate it. If you want to avoid the deluge of students who flock to BLCU and Tsinghua then this is the university for you. BUCT’s key selling points are its central location and extra courses. There are numerous elective courses you can choose including Chinese calligraphy, Chinese painting, martial arts and an introduction to China course. There’s also an HSK intensive training class each term. The downside? Its name. Few people have heard of the Beijing University of Chemical Technology. Also, ‘It can be sometimes irritating for the older students to be with 17 year olds,’ says 24-year-old Clare Parfondry who graduated from BLCU this summer. She says that overall there is an ‘interesting mix of countries represented at Beijing University of Chemical Technology and very few westerners,’ however, which may be attractive to some.
Cost per term: 8,250RMB for the first term, 7,838RMB for subsequent terms.
What you get: very cheap tuition, good electives, a central location and few westerners, though none of the kudos of a Tsinghua certificate.
‘The best place for studying if you work or live in Chaoyang,’ says Theresa, a student at CUEB. This university is good for those with an interest in business and economics as it also offers an economics programme. CUEB has only about 500 foreign students making it not too difficult to integrate with other Chinese graduate students on the university’s Chaoyang campus. As long as you’re not too attracted to the bright lights of the CBD, that is. Overall, the university is a solid place to study Chinese with the language teaching not particularly distinguishing itself from other universities.
Cost per term: 9,100RMB
What you get: A standard university located in the CBD, good for those with an interest in economics.
Communication University of China (CUC)
The motto of CUC is ‘integrity, professionalism, erudition and competence’. However, many students studying there don’t think this is a suitable motto. There seems to be a widespread belief among students that the Chinese department is particularly incompetent. That said, CUC’s Chinese course is relatively new. Tuition fees are also a bargain and the course itself is laid-back making it ideal for a learner who wants to study Chinese without a serious commitment. The main draw of CUC is its reputation amongst media circles. Alumni include CCTV broadcaster Luo Jing and Li Yong as well as presenters from Hong Kong and Singapore television. This makes it an excellent networking university for future DaShan’s and journalists.
Cost per term: 8,300RMB
What you get: unorganised, easy going, cheap language tuition at a university that specialises in media training.
There are those who wax lyrical about its stunning grounds and Peking University, or Beida as it’s known by locals, certainly has one of the most impressive campuses in Beijing. It’s also a highly respected university. Cambridge, Oxford and Oslo universities all send their undergraduates here. Be prepared to pay for the scenery and reputation, however. Studying at Peking University is not cheap at 13,000RMB a term. The course itself is average and sometimes repetitive according to Beida student Jennifer O’Claire. Peking University also focuses on a more academic and classical approach to learning Chinese.
Cost per term: about 13,000RMB (prices vary according to the period of the course)
What you get: a university with a good reputation and standard Chinese teaching at a high price.
Graduates of Renmin University have the dubious honour of being able to count Grace Mugabe as one of their fellow alumni. The Zimbabwean president’s wife took an intensive course in Chinese here in 2009. That said, this does at least testify to the reputability of Renmin. Time Out has also been told that the food here is among the best at Beijing universities. In terms of Chinese teaching, the grammar tuition is supposed to be very professional with teachers for other subjects sometimes being a bit hit and miss. Many students also feel that, though it has a worldwide reputation, the Chinese course lets Renmin down. This is blamed on large class sizes and the mediocre material.
Cost per term: 9,100RMB
What you get: good food at a good university but without amazing teaching.

Although the IUP course is primarily administered by Berkeley University, it takes place at the prestigious Tsinghua University. You’ll be along good company here, Hu Jintao is a former graduate and guest speakers have included Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Henry Kissinger. Unlike other courses you can’t enter IUP as a beginner, there’s a perquisite of at least two years of Mandarin study.
IUP distinguishes itself through its small class sizes. There are three hours of classes with two other students and one hour of private tuition every day. The course is not for the light-hearted and according to former student Alexander Farbstein ‘Because the curriculum is so intense, it's hard to find a school/life balance. You're kidding yourself if you think you'll be able to hold down a job and go to school at the same time.’ Another downside is the expensive tuition fees. That said, there is an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the IUP course. As Michael Keefrider, another former student, describes it ‘[IUP is] not cheap but totally worth it.’
Cost per term: 7,500 US dollars
What you get: one-on-one intensive teaching for serious Chinese learners.