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China Axes Hundreds of Joint Courses With Foreign Universities

Confucius Institute in Rennes, France - credit: Florian B35 - wikipedia
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Yitong Wu and King Man Ho | Radio Free Asia

A German rights activist calls for greater transparency over which universities accept Chinese government money, and on what terms.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is axing hundreds of Sino-foreign university cooperation arrangements, including around 60 joint programs with universities in the United Kingdom.

The ministry listed 286 projects it said were being wound down as part of a routine review process.

The canceled courses included a bachelor’s degree in mechanical design and automation run by Harbin University of Science and Technology and London’s City University, as well as a social work courses run by East China Normal University and New York University.

Other axed programs included courses jointly run with the University of Florida, the University of Southern Queensland and the University of Leeds.

According to University World News, China has signed hundreds of collaboration agreements and memorandums of understanding with foreign universities in recent years, and not all are successful.

Wu Yue, founder of the industry research company New School Insight Media, told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post that such closures happen every year.

“Every year, the authorities terminate some unsuitable programs and give permission to a few that have good quality, it’s a routine operation,” she said. “The authorities have been supervising this area for a while.”

Confucius Institutes scrutinized

The ministry of education began supervising Sino-foreign programs in 2004, scrutinizing them for content that violates China’s national educational interests or historical and cultural traditions.

China’s Confucius Institutes have taken similar ideological requirements far beyond the country’s borders, leading some overseas universities to cancel agreements with the cultural and language-teaching schools over concerns at growing CCP influence on overseas campuses.

German rights activist David Missal recently announced via Twitter that he is suing the University of Potsdam over its refusal to disclose how much of its funding comes from Chinese sources.

“A lot of universities have been reluctant to tell me if they receive funding from China,” Missal told RFA. “In collaboration with Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, I have been suing some of these universities.”

“I have already filed a lawsuit against the University of Mainz, which was the same as with the University of Potsdam; I wanted to know if they take China’s money.”

“If they do, I want more information, the contract terms, the conditions attached and so on,” he said.

Funding questions

Missal said he plans to sue 100 of the biggest universities in Germany over the issue of Chinese funding as part of a research project into Chinese influence at Germany universities.

“We know that there are about a dozen universities that currently receive funding from Hanban, or have Hanban teachers working there for free,” he said, in a reference to the Chinese government department under the State Council that is responsible for administering the overseas network of Confucius Institutes.

“I also know of more than a dozen universities that receive funding from Huawi,” he said, calling for legislation in Germany to prevent foreign influence in the country’s institutions. “It’s very risky in the long run; the biggest danger is that some professors will practise self-censorship.”

Missal’s work has so far listed the University of Göttingen, the University of Freiburg, the Berlin University of Technology, and the Free University of Berlin among nearly 20 German institutions to take money from Huawei.

Confucius Institutes are embedded in universities around the world, including dozens of U.S. universities, where they offer Mandarin language teaching, cultural activities, and other events to students. The State Department regards the programs as a foreign mission of the Chinese Communist Party.

Cooperation agreements with the Confucius Institutes typically allow them to exclusively employ teachers vetted and paid by the Chinese government, who “can be expected to avoid discussing China’s treatment of dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities,” according to letters sent in 2020 by the State and Education departments of the U.S. government.

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