Protecting academic freedom in international partnerships

Some valid suggestions to reduce foreign government influence:

We live in an age of academic internationalisation, especially pronounced in the United Kingdom. This has in many ways been a good thing. 

It has become more common for research institutions across the globe to establish collaborative research and joint degree programmes, often hugely benefiting research and teaching. Individual scholars and students travel more easily and frequently today, too, and their ideas and arguments travel with them. 

Moreover, even when physical travel is interrupted, as it is at the moment, academic communities can interact and stay connected remotely. 

But internationalisation has also produced new risks, especially in the context of engagement, exchange and collaboration with non-democratic countries. 

In an age of ‘democratic retrogression’ and deepening authoritarianism affecting many countries, many members of the global academic community face growing challenges – including censorship and travel restrictions, disciplinary measures and dismissals, criminal prosecutions and even physical attacks, as has been well documented by Scholars At Risk and other groups. 

Such repression has become increasingly internationalised, not only because repressive governments can extend threats and censorship across borders, but also because marketised funding structures, the casualisation of academic work and an opportunistic approach to building global ties have made academic actors within liberal democracies more vulnerable – and sometimes less willing to stand up for academic freedom and integrity. 

This is the case, for example, when universities take funding that comes with strings attached or raises concerns about the donor’s political goals or when academic publishers decide to accept censorship instructions from autocratic governments, apparently for commercial reasons. 

Exporting repression

Against this background, we must be concerned about the terms of our engagement with academic institutions abroad, as well as about repressive governments and institutions’ ability to ‘export repression’ in the field of academia.

At a time when the global pandemic has changed academic life beyond recognition for many of us in the UK and globally, and as we are already overburdened with the challenges arising immediately from COVID, we may feel reluctant to engage with further, more long-term challenges. 

Yet, as members of the recently established Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group (AFIWG) in the UK, we feel that the challenges posed by academic internationalisation must be dealt with without delay – and, indeed, that the pandemic has exacerbated some of these challenges, for example, by making us more dependent on online communication.

Universities could respond in several ways. Denial – such as that by the Chair of Million Plus group of universities, Bill Rammell, in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) of the House of Commons in 2019 – is no longer tenable. 

An auditing response of generic and top-down reporting requirements, which spread like viruses through UK higher education, are also unlikely to touch conditions on the ground. 

Similarly, the notion that universities must “sensitively balance the need to uphold academic freedom with the importance of internal academic collaboration”– as suggested by then Universities UK president Janet Beer in her letter to the FAC – is equally inadequate and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of academic freedom. 

Faced with such inertia, the UK government, including its security agencies, have pressed British higher education to develop security guidelines and risk management strategies. In guidance just released, Universities UK finally addresses these concerns with academic freedom considered among a range of objects and values to be defended, including intellectual property and “national security”.

A new code of conduct

However, while there may be a need for draconian measures in rare cases, a national security approach is largely inappropriate as it is founded on false premises. 

UK universities are not national institutions under threat, but global institutions so thoroughly internationalised that any attempt to cut them off from foreign influence may make the problem worse. 

It would feed the narrative of some authoritarian states that they are vehicles of British ‘soft power’ against their values and even Trojan horses for spying researchers. 

A far better response is for a bottom-up process led by academic staff, supported by students, civil society and unions. 

The AFIWG has composed a Draft Model Code of Conduct for UK higher education institutions to bestow duties on them to protect their academic communities at home and abroad and be transparent and accountable to their members. 

It is a draft and a model so it can be revised in the coming months of consultation and adapted from the minimum standards enshrined in the model.

These minimum standards include a stipulation that universities must undertake meaningful risk assessment and due diligence when transnational collaboration is being considered before any agreement or arrangement is begun. 

In particular, they must ensure memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on international partnerships, including foreign campuses and the affiliation of foreign education or research institutions to UK higher education institutions within the UK, are subject to consultation across the university.

With regard to protecting their staff and students overseas, universities must evaluate academic freedom and the risks associated with its absence, as when planning fieldwork and field trips abroad, and make available enhanced travel insurance to cover politically motivated or arbitrary detention by state authorities.

On campuses at home, universities should ensure that academic freedom requirements, including personal data protection for these members of the academic community, are incorporated within all MoUs with state scholarship programmes. Vice-chancellors and their gifts committees must make all MoUs and summary information on all foreign donations public.

A system of confidential and public reporting is required to enhance protection and accountability. UK universities should establish a confidential and independent internal reporting mechanism to a designated individual on campus for cases or issues of concern, while serious cases and issues, including all those involving a threat to the welfare of the complainant, should be passed to a new, independent ombudsperson.

An academic freedom model in authoritarian times?

This is a model and draft which may have relevance far beyond the UK. It is designed to be revised via debate on campus among staff and students and adopted according to minimum conditions. The duties it imposes are on universities’ leaders – not on staff and students who may be vulnerable themselves. 

But there is a risk. If vice-chancellors pass down the code of conduct in the form of new and onerous auditing requirements for staff, or if governments make them matters of national security, academic freedom will be weakened, not strengthened. The way to protect academic freedom is for universities to be held to account by their academics and students. 

We must use our freedom before we lose it. 

John Heathershaw is professor of international relations at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. Eva Pils is a professor of law at King’s College London, UK.


Chinese families shun Western universities as coronavirus, strained ties are ‘scaring middle-class families’

Will have major impact on universities who have counted on this revenue source:

After being inundated with news about the worsening coronavirus pandemic and rising tensions between China and the West for months, Beijinger Joe Gao was compelled to make a difficult decision regarding his six-year-old daughter’s future education.

Rather than pay 300,000 yuan (US$44,000) in annual tuition for her, as he does for her nine-year-old brother who is studying at an international school in the capital, Gao has had to change his plans and is now looking to send his daughter to a public school in mainland China.

“Until this summer, I had been working hard with the aim of earning enough to send both of them abroad for secondary school. But things change so fast, and so we must, too,” he said. “I’m not that rich like a tycoon with strong anti-risk capabilities. I think the economic uncertainty, the pandemic and the growing negative perception of China are actually scaring many middle-class families of my kind.”

Gao, who runs an investment and services start-up, said he is still going to send his son abroad for schooling, but now prefers that be in an Asian country such as Singapore, instead of the United States or Australia, in case China’s relations with the West continue to deteriorate in the coming years.China’s overseas graduates return in record numbers to already crowded domestic job market21 Sep 2020

“If China and the West face a long-term confrontation into the future, trade between China and the [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] will increase, and studying in developed Asian areas would be safer for, and more friendly to, Chinese,” he said.

Gao is not alone in his rationalisation. A large and growing number of Chinese parents are cancelling or at least suspending plans to send their children to study abroad – a strong signal that wealthy and middle-class Chinese families are becoming less interested in sending their kids to study overseas.

About 81 per cent of affluent Chinese families whose children study foreign curriculums and take foreign examinations have decided to postpone plans to send them abroad for undergraduate or graduate studies, according to a survey released last month by Babazhenbang, an education start-up with a database of more than 400 schools preparing Chinese students for overseas high schools and colleges.

Among 838 respondents, the survey found that worries about the pandemic (82.6 per cent) and possible discrimination due to political tensions (60.9 per cent) were the top reasons for the postponements, followed by personal financial difficulties (43.5 per cent) and the fading advantages for overseas-trained talent in the domestic job market (21.7 per cent).

When all is said and done, the pandemic and increasingly rigorous visa checks could end China’s overseas schooling boom end much earlier than expected, according to Cao Huiying, founder of Babazhenbang.

“A lot of parents, especially among those middle-class families in second- and third-tier cities in China, have reconsidered and put their children back into the domestic education system,” she said.

Liu Shengjun, head of the China Financial Reform Institute, a Shanghai-based research firm, also pointed to the combination of factors leading to a rethink about overseas education options for Chinese families.

“Under the impact of the epidemic and the deterioration of Sino-US relations, which may last for years, there is expected to be a decline in both the number of Chinese students studying overseas and Chinese shopping abroad,” Liu said. “But the size of the decline cannot be predicted at this time.

“I think this trend will contribute to China’s domestic education market, but not sufficiently enough to offset weak domestic spending.”

According to a 2017 report by Union Pay International, Chinese students abroad spent more than 380 billion yuan (US$55.7 billion) annually — 80 per cent of which was on tuition and daily expenses.

Public concern among wealthy and middle-class mainland Chinese increased after the US confirmed last month that it had revoked more than 1,000 visas held by Chinese graduate students and research scholars. Escalating tensions between China and Australia have also fuelled concerns.

The two countries had been among the top overseas schooling destinations for Chinese students until recently.

“Last year, more than 90 per cent of our graduates applied only to American universities, while all graduates this year applied to more universities outside of the United States than American ones,” said Lion Deng, a counsellor with the international department of the Affiliated High School of Guangzhou University.

“All parents think the current conflict between China and the US is a direct and intense head-on collision that cannot be resolved in the short-term. Risks such as visa checks, as well as political and diplomatic uncertainties, are very likely to affect [students’] lives in college. It will definitely have a big impact on curbing their desire to educate their children in the United States,” Deng added.

“The number of students from our school applying for admission to high schools in the United States this year has dropped by 75 per cent compared with last year.”

Jade Zheng, who owns several flats in Shenzhen and runs a cafe, originally planned to send her seven-year-old son to Canada for school next year or the year after, and she had hoped he would adapt to the Western environment at an early age.

“In March, we decided to keep him in Shenzhen to study until at least high school, and currently we are going to delay the plan until he is an undergraduate,” she said. “The news is getting worse and worse, and we are feeling increasingly insecure, and [we feel] that things are getting out of control with regard to investing and living outside of China.”

Zheng’s brother and his wife sold their only apartment in 2018 and raised 5 million yuan (US$733,400) to send their son to high school and college in the US. “They were very happy back then but now are very worried about the safety of the 16-year-old boy,” Zheng said. “Additionally, the apartment they sold is now worth 8 million yuan.”

“Even if my son studies abroad, I hope he will return to Shenzhen to live in the future, because in the next 10 or 20 years, Shenzhen will definitely have more vitality and better prospects than any other areas, in terms of economic development,” Zheng added. “Maybe it would be a good idea to just go to college in Shenzhen in the future.”

Similar sentiment was echoed by Alice Chen, whose 18-year-old daughter started this autumn at a US Ivy League university but is studying remotely from Beijing due to the coronavirus.

“Our children born after 2000 are very different from us,” Chen said. “They feel that New York and London are not much different than Beijing and Shanghai. And they are satisfied with China’s economic development with a strong Chinese national identity.”

For many rich Chinese families and their children who have no plans to stay in the US or to visit for an extended period in the future, negative sentiment in the US about China is no longer important to them, Chen said.

“Their generation believes that China’s economy and society are better than most other countries,” she said. “When a company or a country becomes very strong, it will definitely be contained by competitors.”


Cross-country forum of professors, students aims to tackle anti-Black racism on campuses

Will be interesting to see what practical recommendations they come up with:

When Binta Sesay was accepted into the University of British Columbia, the international student was thrilled.

She didn’t think that being Black would play a major role in her life at university, but over the past few years at UBC’s Okanagan campus, Sesay said, she has been strongly affected by negative stereotypes and misconceptions of Black people and the racism she’s encountered.

From receiving little school support to mark Black History Month to a false accusation of theft against a Black students’ organization on which she served, Sesay said she has felt frustrated with anti-Black racism on campus.

“I’m so sick and tired of people … being ignorant of the Black experience or just choosing not to be educated about the Black experience, because if people say they don’t know what’s going on, then they choose not to know what’s going on,” the third-year international studies student said from Kelowna, B.C.

Sesay and hundreds of other Black students and faculty, along with community members, staff and senior administrators from more than 50 Canadian post-secondary institutions, are meeting virtually this week for a national forum on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion in higher education.

The cross-Canada forum comes after a summer that saw renewed attention on the Black Lives Matter movement and identifying anti-Black racism across many sectors of society, including academia.

“The university years are a huge part of a person’s life. Imagine if you go through university and your experiences are not good at all. It’s also going to affect your frame of reference when you go out into the world,” said Sesay, who is originally from Gambia but lived in Britain and Jerusalem before coming to Canada.

“It’s going to affect how you see the world. It’s going to affect how you interact with the world and it’s going to affect how you carry yourself as well.”

Organized by the University of Toronto, the two-day conference, which began Thursday, is expected to attract more than 3,000 participants. Nine different sessions tackle such topics as ensuring accessibility and success for Black students, staff and faculty; addressing the lack of Black representation in leadership and in the curriculum; mentoring and support networks; and collecting race-based data to combat inequities.

The goal is for a co-ordinating committee to turn these conversations into a charter of principles and actions that the participants can then adopt and employ as they address anti-Black racism on their own campuses.”We can do things individually, but it’ll be much … stronger if the whole ecosystem is working in tandem, where we are mutually reinforcing our individual commitments,” said co-organizer Wisdom Tettey, vice-president and principal of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, in the city’s east end.

“How do we make sure that we create pathways for people to come into the institutions?… How do you create a sense of belonging? How do you make sure that support systems are responsive to their needs?”

Students, faculty speak out about racism

The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May galvanized attempts on school campuses in North America and beyond to seek justice and address anti-Black racism. Students are shining a light on the racism they experience on campuses across the country, scholars have held protests against police brutality and alumni have called on their alma maters to address their racist legacies.

“There’s no unified policy across Canadian campuses to deal with racism, so [this conference] is a first step in actually getting universities together in one place,” said Toronto-based journalist and author Eternity Martis.

“Students have been demanding accountability, have been persistent in wanting something like this to happen.”

In her recent memoir They Said This Would Be Fun, Martis revisits her undergraduate years at Western University in London, Ont., as a jumping-off point for exploring the reality and experiences of myriad young Black women on Canadian university campuses today. What she’s most interested in seeing from this week’s conference is what real-world actions and change will be enacted by the institutions participating.”Considering what’s been happening in the world with the renewed anti-Black racism movement, there’s been a lot of saving face,” Martis said.

“Schools have been doing town halls and putting reports together for a long time. I’m hoping at this time, it actually sticks, that there are some regulations around it.”

Dozens of Canadian post-secondary institutions are holding a two-day national dialogue on anti-Black racism in academic spaces and how to break down barriers. Barrington Walker, a professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University, is addressing the group Thursday.  7:31

Conference co-organizer Tettey said it is critical that definitive commitments and mechanisms to hold institutions accountable come out of this week’s sessions — the first of what will be a series of national forums addressing equity and inclusion in Canadian post-secondary education.

School leaders have ‘obligations’

We have to have some concrete actions, and we recognize that those actions will vary from institution to institution, because we’re all at different levels of progress,” he said.

“But there’s some broad kinds of actions that we can all identify as important … guidelines that we can pursue. It allows us to focus on particular areas where we’ve got challenges, where we’ve got barriers and say, ‘Let’s address these things together.'”It won’t be easy challenging the structures of post-secondary education, Tettey said, but he considers it an obligation for the sector’s leaders to have these tough conversations and make difficult decisions leading to fundamental change.

“People have had to fight for the rights and freedoms that we have. And we cannot renege on our obligations as this generation of educators [and tell] the next generation to do it. We need to do it now. And it’s imperative that we don’t waste any more time,” he said.

“If we are indeed a mature democracy or if we aspire to be one, one of the fundamental pieces of that is to have citizens who are treated equitably or seen as equals.”

Source: Cross-country forum of professors, students aims to tackle anti-Black racism on campuses

Colleges, universities expecting large financial losses from drop in international students

We shall see over the next month or so when IRCC study permit data for July and August becomes available (July data should be out sometime next week):

Colleges and universities say they’re anticipating financial losses possibly in the billions of dollars due to a drop in international enrolments caused by the global pandemic.

The government of Canada last week took additional steps to make it easier for students to study online from abroad, but the national associations that represent universities and colleges say the losses are still likely to be significant. The associations are lobbying the federal government to make money available for postsecondary institutions.

Denise Amyot, president of Colleges and Institutes Canada, said a mid-June survey showed colleges expected their new international enrolments to fall by two-thirds this term, from about 90,000 to 30,000. It’s still unclear whether those fears will be realized, as data are not yet available, but colleges are hoping the impact will be less than expected, Ms. Amyot said.

“Administrators are worried right now. They’re worried about the financial impact. They’re worried they’ll have fewer programs to offer domestic students,” she said. “Every student counts right now. I can’t think of a better way to put it.”

International students are crucial to university finances because they represent half of all tuition revenue. The impact of the pandemic may be more pronounced for colleges, though, as they tend to offer shorter programs that result in more frequent student turnover.

International students contribute nearly $22-billion a year to the Canadian economy, according to federal government estimates, with billions flowing from postsecondary tuition fees alone. Ms. Amyot said an analysis conducted on behalf of the colleges estimates between $1.8-billion and $3.5-billion in lost revenue, depending on the length and severity of the pandemic.

Universities Canada said it does not yet know the extent of losses across the sector. Some universities, including the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta, said international acceptances are in line with previous years, but numbers aren’t firm as students still have a month to withdraw. And the picture may be quite different from one institution to another.

“We are in active discussions with federal government departments about how we can work together to stabilize from the potential loss of international students,” said Cindy McIntyre, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada.

Education is primarily a provincial responsibility. Ontario provided an additional $25-million to postsecondary institutions early in the pandemic to cope with some of the additional associated costs. Quebec gave $75-million to institutions and made more money available in student assistance. But the national postsecondary associations are aiming to persuade the federal government to contribute some pandemic-specific funds to the sector, as they did with the $2-billion recently announced for elementary and high schools.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISEDC) said Wednesday that Ottawa is having conversations with the provinces and territories regarding the types of supports that are needed. And Ottawa has since taken steps to ease some of the concerns of institutions, including a two-step process to speed approval for those who want to start their studies online. It has also allowed U.S. students to cross the border as long as they quarantine for 14 days on arrival and increased federal student financial aid.

At the moment only those with permits issued before mid-March whose travel is deemed essential and those from the U.S. are allowed to enter Canada.

Last week, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced measures that will allow students to complete one-year programs online without being penalized on the length of their postgraduate work permit. But the decision many institutions are waiting on is whether other international students with visas processed after mid-March will be allowed to enter the country. At the moment provincial and federal health officials are assessing plans submitted by institutions for the safe isolation of arriving students.

“It’s now too late to get international students here for the start of the fall semester, but many of our institutions still have an interest in seeing international students arrive over the course of the fall,” Ms. McIntyre said.

When asked whether Ottawa would step in with more funding to address the shortfall, ISEDC did not answer the question directly, but pointed to changes the government has already brought in, including $450-million in funding for academic research. IRCC also cited previous measures to help international students.

“Recently, changes were brought forward to give international students more certainty about their ability to enter Canada once travel restrictions are eased in Canada and their home countries,” said Mike Jones, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino. “Students who have submitted a complete application will receive priority processing to make sure they can begin their classes while outside Canada, and complete up to 50 per cent of their program from abroad if they can’t travel sooner.”

There were more than 700,000 international students at all levels in 2018, a number that has grown rapidly over the past decade. Normally tens of thousands of new students would be arriving in September, but not this year. At the moment only those with permits issued before mid-March are allowed to enter Canada.

Gautham Kolluri, who runs an international student recruitment company, said students and families are apprehensive about starting an expensive degree at a time when it’s unclear when they will be able to travel to Canada. Many international students pay tuition fees of $20,000 or more, which many plan to partly fund by working part-time while studying.

Mr. Kolluri said he has a few hundred clients who have been accepted by Canadian institutions but he believes a majority will either defer admission or drop those programs in the next month. He thinks only a quarter will pursue their programs online from their home countries.

“They will lose networking opportunities and they will lose the Canadian experience they want, so they will delay and wait and see,” Mr. Kolluri said. “Investing $30,000 without knowing what will happen is a big gamble.”

He said Canada remains a top destination country, as political developments in the U.S. have made it a less desirable option.


UK: Scrutiny over Huawei university ties increases after ban

As should happen in Canada:

The British government’s decision this week to ban Chinese technology giant Huawei from its national telecommunications infrastructure has prompted renewed scrutiny over Huawei’s links with universities in the United Kingdom and renewed calls for transparency in university dealings with the Chinese company.

The UK government announced on 14 July that the purchase of new Huawei equipment for high speed 5G networks will be banned at the end of 2020, and all Huawei equipment will be removed from UK 5G networks by 2027 following a review by the government’s National Cyber Security Centre. The United States and Australia have also banned Huawei from public contracts.

The United States has been lobbying its allies to exclude Huawei equipment on security grounds, arguing that the Chinese government can use Huawei as leverage to disrupt vital communications networks in foreign countries. Huawei has consistently denied it assists the Chinese government efforts to spy on mobile communications.

The decision was preceded by considerable debate on China’s influence, including on universities.

US lobbying extended to attempts to block local planning permission for a new £1 billion (US$1.3 billion) Huawei research hub on the outskirts of Cambridge, approved last month. Keith Krach, US under-secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said in advance of permission being granted that Huawei was “after the people and technology. They want to co-opt the researchers and talent from one of the most prestigious universities.”

Permission was granted on 24 June at a local district committee hearing, which, unusually for this type of local issue, was attended by ambassadors from a number of European countries who wanted to observe the proceedings.

Huawei announced on 26 June that the hub would specialise in fibre optics communications technology. Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang said in a statement that it was not linked to recent US sanctions on Huawei. “Huawei began developing plans for this site more than three years ago, in 2017, so well before the subject of Huawei and 5G was raised in the UK.”

College group demands transparency

With considerable Huawei investment in Cambridge, a major technology hub, student groups in Cambridge have stepped up demands for more transparency in university dealings with Huawei, and China in general, particularly because of ethical concerns over the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Earlier this month the student union at Jesus College, Cambridge University raised “grave concerns” about the college’s ties to Beijing in a letter to the college head or ‘Master’, Sonita Alleyne.

The student union had called for a college commitment to accept no further funding or donations from Huawei and demanded an investigation into the college’s China Centre. The college accepted £155,000 in September 2019 from Huawei for a ‘two-year research cooperation’ under the centre, which resulted in a white paper on global telecommunications reform. Students said the white paper portrayed Huawei in a favourable light.

The paper attracted attention beyond the university, including from MPs on the UK’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which said the report from a prestigious university amounted to “reputation laundering” by Huawei.

Matthew Henderson, of the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank in London which focuses on open democracy, commented at the time: “It is deeply disturbing that Huawei has been able to buy itself a publication endorsed by Cambridge University.”

The China Centre’s website said its team “organises seminars and workshops, hosting speakers with a wide array of views”.

According to participants, the Huawei-funded report was based on a conference held at the centre and included representatives of Facebook Europe, Google, Vodaphone, Alibaba and international bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union, the OECD, the UN trade and development agency UNCTAD, as well as prominent figures such as former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

“We think the China Centre occupies an important role in [Jesus] College, and we are keen to work constructively with College to reform the Centre so that it better represents the values of financial transparency, academic freedom and political independence,” the student union letter said and called on Alleyne to commit to the centre hosting events on Chinese human rights abuses as well as the situation in Hong Kong.

College response

Alleyne said in an email to the college community, including alumni, that the college was beginning a review of some of its ‘historic collaborations’. “This includes our connections with China, some of which date back many years,” she said in the email dated 9 July and seen by University World News.

It includes the Jesus College China Centre as well as a separate UK-China Global Issues Dialogue Centre run by the college, which also receives Huawei funding.

Alleyne said the current two-year agreement between the Dialogue Centre and Huawei included a clause “enshrining academic freedom and free speech written into the research collaboration agreement. The Dialogue Centre owns all research results; Huawei cannot veto research findings, the publication of views or conclusions.

“We are cognisant of the rapidly changing situation in China, particularly in relation to human rights. At this crucial time, it is important that we as an academic institution remain committed to dialogue and intellectual discourse between China and the West.”

Jesus College has also revealed under a request under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act submitted by The Times newspaper that it had received £200,000 in September 2018 from China’s State Council – equivalent to the cabinet and headed by Premier Li Keqiang – for the separate UK-China Global Issues Dialogue Centre set up by the college at that time in collaboration with Tsinghua University in Beijing, which has also been a focus of the student union’s concerns.

The United States has also particularly focused its lobbying on technology transfer to China through Huawei tie-ups with universities.

Huawei Board Director William Xu said in a December blogpost: “We do get useful intellectual property out of some partnerships, but when this happens, the terms are clearly established. For instance, in all the collaborations between Huawei and European research institutes since 2018, only a small portion of resulting IP rights (IPRs) were exclusively granted to Huawei, while most resulting IPRs were exclusively granted to our partners or granted to both parties.”

He noted that even before Huawei arrived on the scene, “universities had a long experience of collaborating with industry. Huawei is one of countless companies engaged in partnerships with universities worldwide. We follow well-established and extremely common practices whenever we initiate collaborations with universities. Even the institutions – primarily US ones – that suspended their relationship with our company are well aware of this; their decision to stop working with us was not the result of Huawei doing anything improper.”

He added: “Although our ultimate focus remains commercial, our interest in basic sciences in many areas now converges with universities’ efforts to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. In the coming years, it is only natural that collaboration between Huawei and universities will become increasingly routine.”

Huawei and other universities

Last year the UK’s University of Oxford said it would no longer accept funding from Huawei, but 17 British universities currently receive funding from the Chinese company. These include Surrey University’s 5G Innovation Centre, Imperial College London and the universities of Edinburgh, Southampton, Cardiff, Manchester and Bristol, with several of them declining to reveal the amount of funding.

The demand for greater transparency and opposition to some types of deals have highlighted some funding deals. In February the London School of Economics (LSE) approved a three-year project on the leadership in the development of 5G technology funded by Huawei.

The NGO openDemocracy said it had obtained access to internal documents that showed the university would receive £105,000 from Huawei for the research, although it is unclear whether it is now going ahead after some academics at the institution raised questions, with some of them concerned the institution had approached Huawei rather than the other way around.

The internal documents state that the LSE has been “chasing” philanthropic funding from China, which is already a source of funding for research. “China and East Asia, in general, will be an important philanthropic market for LSE,” it said.

In May Imperial College London announced a new five-year collaboration with Huawei, with the Chinese company funding a new £5 million technology hub at the university. Huawei will provide the 5G indoor wireless network and AI Cloud platform at one of Imperial’s new campuses.

Ian Walmsley, provost of Imperial College London, said: “Huawei’s expertise in wireless technology will help our researchers, students and partner enterprises to lead the next generation of digital innovations.”

“Imperial, like other UK universities, has received support from Huawei for high-quality and open research for several years, and we are continuing this work,” a spokesman at Imperial College London said. “Such funding continues to be subject to the college’s robust relationship review policies.”

But former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, a high-profile opponent of Huawei’s involvement in UK infrastructure, called the Imperial-Huawei deal “deeply worrying and dangerous”.

“This is a perfect example of how the Chinese strategy is to use their money to insert their influence in the world’s intellectual thought process,” he said.

In November last year the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee said in a report that countries including China were seeking to influence universities. Funding and investment agreements could, for example, include “explicit or implicit limits” on what subjects could be discussed, while institutions had also been pressured not to invite certain speakers, or not to disseminate certain papers, the report A Cautious Embrace: Defending democracy in an age of autocracies found.

“We heard alarming evidence about the extent of Chinese influence on the campuses of UK universities,” the committee said.

Need to manage risk

Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, said in a report released on 9 July by the UK-based think tank Higher Education Policy Institute: “All universities must think through, and rapidly adopt, a risk management strategy for any dealings with China. This should cover all areas of intellectual enquiry. It should spell out clearly and without naivety the risks, and opportunities, of doing work with China and on China. It should also offer some ideas on how to manage issues such as demands from Chinese partners.

“They need to be ready to say no to demands or issues from China that they feel violate their own values, but ensure they do this in a neutral and respectful way,” he said in the report on UK Universities and China.

In the same report, Rana Mitter, director of the University of Oxford China Centre, noted pressures from China for some universities to accept restrictions when they sign agreements.

“Voices from China’s establishment imply that they can easily take their students elsewhere,” he said.

However, he also noted: “The number of first-tier academic environments in the world is not that large. Chinese access to the higher education sector in the UK is welcome, but it is not a right, nor simply a consumer good to be accepted or rejected at will.”

Canadian universities scramble to maintain flow of international students and the revenue they bring

As are other countries, save the USA:

Canadian universities are trying to salvage the incoming class of international students as travel restrictions, quarantine rules and the move to online learning threaten to disrupt what has become a crucial revenue source.

Chauffeur service to a quarantined room, catered meals, daily health checks with a thermometer for every student, even the possibility of chartered flights to get students to Canada – all are on the table as institutions prepare for the fall term.

The financial stakes are significant. In a little more than a decade, the number of international students attending Canadian universities has tripled, to nearly 500,000 in 2019, representing about a quarter of all new university enrolments, according to a recent StatsCan report.

With international students typically paying tuition fees two to five times higher than Canadian students, they now contribute roughly $6-billion a year to Canadian postsecondary institutions – half of all tuition revenue at domestic institutions. As provincial government funding to universities stagnated over the past decade, those fees have paid for rising institutional and labour costs.

Over all, universities are bracing for a potential drop of 10 to 35 per cent or more in international student fees – on top of revenue already lost to cancelled conferences and shuttered recreation facilities.

Some schools are at greater risk in the short term – particularly those that have taken a lot of international students in recent years. While universities across the country have seen growth in international student enrolment, it has been notably high in parts of Atlantic Canada. Cape Breton University, for example, is nearly two-thirds international, and Saint Mary’s in Halifax is nearly one-third. At Dalhousie, tuition revenue is projected to decline by between $30-million and $50-million this year, primarily because of the loss of international students, who make up 22 per cent of the student body.

The University of Toronto also relies heavily on international fees – one in four of its students come from abroad – and detailed plans have been drawn up to get them from the airport into university dorms or even hotel rooms so they can quarantine for the mandatory two weeks. The university is willing to book hundreds of hotel rooms, if need be. But it will also prepare special quarantine kits for every incoming student, including a thermometer for daily temperature checks. All their meals and other amenities would be delivered, with students required to speak via video once daily with a health professional. The university said it’s still examining how to provide testing for the virus or its antibodies at the start and end of quarantine.

“It’s a big project, but it’s an incredibly important project, given the talent pipeline that these students represent,” said Ted Sargent, vice-president, international, at U of T.

It’s not clear, however, how all these services – including the hotel rooms and meals – would be paid for. U of T and other schools have been speaking to federal and provincial governments about securing additional funding, but so far, there’s been no agreement. “It’s clearly not going to be a small cost,” said Prof. Sargent, suggesting the province, the federal government and the university could share the added costs of quarantine for incoming students.

With roughly two months until the start of classes, universities have plenty of logistical hurdles to overcome – not least whether students will even be allowed to enter the country. “It’s still too early to tell what travel and health restrictions will continue through the months ahead,” according to Immigration officials. Currently, only students with a travel permit issued before March 18 are allowed to enter Canada.

It’s not clear how many visas have been issued since then. Processing has been slowed dramatically by the pandemic and universities still don’t know whether those with permits issued after mid-March will be allowed to cross the border for the start of classes. Universities Canada, the agency that represents schools at the federal level, said it has been told the department can process a surge of applications quickly, but time is running out.

Families overseas are also likely trying to determine whether it’s safe to travel and whether there’s any value in paying for a year in Canada with so much lingering uncertainty around how much of the education will be delivered online. Students can begin their studies online in their home countries, but many universities worry students won’t be prepared to pay high tuition fees without the Canadian experience attached. One survey by a British higher-education consultancy this spring showed more than half of international students planning on coming to Canada intended to defer admission for a year.

“We’ve got to find a way of making this work,” said Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada. “We’ve got to make sure it’s safe and secure and that we don’t have setbacks that would impact on our international reputation. The level of interest on the part of international students in Canada remains very, very strong.”

Although COVID-19 poses a threat to Canada’s gains in the international student sector, Canada could emerge stronger compared with other countries. The United States, for instance, said this week that students attending universities that don’t offer in-person classes will have to return to their home countries, sparking an outcry. It has also made it more difficult for foreign students to obtain work visas after graduation.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, recently announced a key policy adjustment designed to aid international students, ensuring those who begin their studies online from abroad won’t be penalized with shorter postgraduate work permits. That’s a significant factor for those attracted by the prospect of being able to earn Canadian wages to offset the cost of the degree and who hope to use the experience as a springboard to gain permanent residency in Canada.

Nonetheless, one recruitment agent based in India said he has recommended to some students that they consider starting their courses online at home and waiting until winter 2021 to travel to Canada.

Sushil Sukhwani, director of Edwise International India, said he expects to send 30 to 40 per cent fewer students to Canada this year due to the pandemic. In some cases, students are concerned that even if they do get into Canada, classes will be primarily online, meaning they’ll be spending thousands of dollars on accommodations and other amenities when they could be studying from home.

He also said many students worry that with unemployment high in Canada, they won’t be able to find part-time jobs to offset their living expenses. In a survey of several hundred clients, he found a little more than 40 per cent were willing to consider starting their Canadian studies online from India.

“I tell parents that if you are worried about these things, then start with the online option and wait for things to settle down. That way, their costs are lower, and they don’t run the risk of not getting a part-time job,” Mr. Sukhwani said.

At Thompson Rivers University (TRU), international students make up about 17 per cent of the student population. Baihua Chadwick, associate vice-president, international, at TRU, said she anticipates a drop in international enrolment for the fall – but how big is still difficult to say.

“That’s the $10-million question, and maybe a lot more than that,” she said with a laugh.

Her best estimate is that TRU will enroll 30 per cent fewer international students this fall. One of the reasons she foresees a drop is because so many visa applications haven’t been processed by Canadian immigration officials.

“Visa offices were closed, particularly in our major source countries. Now some of them have opened, and we’re seeing visas being issued very slowly, which is a major concern for us,” Ms. Chadwick said.

There is also a sense that Canada’s deteriorating relationship with China, damaged by the fallout from the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, could trigger a drop in students from that country. China has for years been Canada’s top source country for university students, and Ms. Chadwick said she’s seeing fewer of them applying to TRU than in the past.

Already a number of applicants to TRU in China have been rejected by Canadian government officials for reasons that remain unclear, she said, and students who travelled to Canada were even turned back at the border.

“Even if you just have a few students being returned or denied entry, the word spreads like wildfire,” she said. “And so [international recruiters] will be advising their students not to attempt” to travel.

Travel could also be difficult because of the relatively small number of international flights still operating. TRU and other universities have looked into booking their own charter aircraft to get students to Canada. But the price quoted was a hefty $500,000 a flight, Ms. Chadwick said, and for now they’ve decided against it.

Instead, the university plans to greet arriving international students at Vancouver airport, whisk them directly to waiting buses and drive four hours to campus in Kamloops, where the students would quarantine for 14 days.

Haonan Deng, 23, is an international student who plans to attend TRU in the fall. He had intended to return to China after graduating with a degree in business in June, but the depressed economy persuaded him to enroll in a master’s degree program at TRU, even though it will be delivered online.

As a member of the school’s Chinese student association, he’s been in touch with prospective students weighing whether they should travel to Canada in September. He said the main concern he encounters is from students worried that if they stay home and begin their studies online, they could still be rejected by Canada when they apply for a visa once it’s safe to travel. Mr. Deng added that some kind of guarantee from the government – assuring students they’ll eventually be allowed to enter Canada to complete their studies in person – would be welcome.

“They want to know how they will complete their degree,” he said.


Hong Kong: Alarm over universities’ backing of national security law

More bad news regarding Hong Kong institutions and Chinese government repression:

The heads of the governing councils of Hong Kong’s eight publicly funded universities have backed a plan announced by Beijing last month to impose a national security law on the city, in an act that many academics see as ‘doing Beijing’s bidding’.

Some fear such statements on policies from Beijing emanating from universities could lead to the politicisation of institutions in Hong Kong, which are already polarised between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing groups.

China’s view is that increasingly violent protests over the past year in Hong Kong are a threat to national security. But when it was first revealed last month, the national security law took Hong Kong and the world by surprise – in particular because it would be imposed directly by Beijing on Hong Kong, in contravention of treaties allowing Hong Kong to keep freedoms separate from mainland China under the policy of ‘one country, two systems’.

A resolution was passed in the 28 May session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), to draft the law to prohibit “acts of subversion, succession, terrorism and involvement with foreign interference in Hong Kong”. It would also allow China’s security intelligence agencies to operate in Hong Kong.

The joint statement released on 1 June by the chair of the governing councils of eight Hong Kong universities said: “As residents of Hong Kong, we enjoy the protection provided by the state, and in turn have a reciprocal obligation to protect the state by supporting the introduction of legislation which prohibits criminal acts that threaten the existence of the state.”

”We therefore support the national security laws which will operate under the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, to better ensure universities can continue to create knowledge through research and learning,” it added.

Council statement followed a more limited statement

But hours earlier, university vice-chancellors and presidents of five of the eight universities – Hong Kong University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Lingnan University and the Education University of Hong Kong – issued their own joint statement which said: “We fully support ‘one country, two systems’, understand the need for national security legislation and value the freedom of speech, of the press, of publication, of assembly and other rights the Basic Law confers upon the people of Hong Kong.”

The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s mini constitution.

Conspicuous by their absence were the signatures of the heads of City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. City University sources said the university administration sought to “separate education and politics” while backing the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.

A separate statement from Baptist University President Roland Chin was a more subdued version. “We highly appreciate the importance of national security and Hong Kong’s stability,” Chin said. “It is our earnest hope that the national security legislation will continue to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy as promised in the Basic Law.”

Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said: “The council is the highest ruling body in any university so adding the council means doubling down on this protestation of support for Beijing. Usually the [university] president would be enough.”

Lam said he assumed the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong had put pressure on university presidents to profess public support for the national security law. “In the NPC discussion about Hong Kong they emphasised a need to boost patriotic education, so education is very important for the Chinese government. They are very keen to have [university] presidents sign up to this profession of support for Beijing,” Lam told University World News.

“This is standard [Communist] Party strategy to prop up its legitimacy by showing its policies have ‘support’,” said another CUHK academic. “Beijing wants to show that their hated national security law has support of respected academics and academic institutions.”

A proportion of university council members are directly appointed by Hong Kong’s chief executive, who also acts as chancellor of all the publicly funded universities. The two statements came just before a trip to Beijing on 3 June by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other top Hong Kong officials, reportedly to discuss the new law.

Carrie Lam said last week her administration would fully cooperate with Beijing on the legislation, which will be enacted in Hong Kong without any input from Hong Kong’s legislature.

Precedents in issuing joint statements

Academics noted that it was not unusual for university presidents in Hong Kong to issue joint statements, though these were usually in relation to issues directly related to university affairs and student activities, particularly during the Umbrella Movement student protests in 2014-16 and student protests over the now withdrawn Hong Kong bill to extradite criminals to China, which saw weeks of unbroken protests from June 2019 to January 2020.

In June 2019, 10 university heads issued a joint statement urging calm as students began their protests against the extradition bill.

Joint statements have included a statement in November from nine university presidents criticising government demands for universities to resolve student discontent which led to major campus battles with police at CUHK and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019.

Joint statements from university governing councils are rarer, but in October 2019, in the wake of a large number of students being arrested during protests, and attempts by university heads to assist them in various ways, the heads of eight university governing councils in Hong Kong issued a joint statement saying assistance provided by universities to arrested students and staff did not represent any support for their political views.

In September 2017, 10 university presidents and vice-chancellors issued a joint statement condemning “abuses” of freedom of expression after some students put up banners advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China. “We do not support Hong Kong independence, which contravenes the Basic Law,” that statement said.

Beijing demands support

Beijing-backed groups in Hong Kong have been exhorting companies and organisations to publicly support the proposed law, including civil servants, police and immigration officers, as well as canvassing individuals to sign a petition in favour of the law.

“Calling on university administrations to back the law proposed by Beijing is not the Hong Kong way of doing things. This law is not directly part of campus governance. Instead, it is the Communist Party’s common practice of co-opting groups and individuals to show allegiance and support of the party,” said one normally outspoken academic who asked in this instance to remain anonymous. “Hong Kong’s universities are autonomous; they should not be backing political positions decided in Beijing.”

Lokman Tsui, assistant professor at CUHK’s school of journalism and communication, said via Twitter: “As a professor at CUHK I want to express my opposition to the national security legislation. I am concerned it will harm Hong Kong’s freedom of speech, press freedom, academic freedom and the rule of law that underpins these and other freedoms.”

Well-known Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai, who was arrested on 28 February, along with other major pro-democracy figures on charges of illegal assembly, and was later released on bail, referred to the joint statement by the five university heads in a tweet: “This is the end of academic freedom in HK. Higher education was once a paramount institution in defending our freedom to pursue knowledge.”

As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

This article, like so many, would benefit from some hard data to back up the assertions. Are there any studies on the number of university students without a computer? Without web access? Are international students less likely to have computers and web access than Canadian ones? Unlikely, given how they remain in contact with family.

Not to say that there are not digital and other divides but more than anecdotal evidence required before advocating for greater resources:

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that in times of turmoil, decisions made for the greater good can have collateral impacts. It’s becoming evident that efforts to contain the virus and limit social distancing are increasing precarity for some people, especially those already in socio-economically disadvantaged positions. Universities are not immune to these collateral impacts, and last week’s decision by most Canadian universities to finish the current term by moving pedagogical components online is one of those times when a small segment of students will be neglected in a move meant to benefit all of them.

The decision is a show of resilience and solidarity by our higher education institutions. But the problem is the digital divide among students. Even in our great cosmopolitan country, not everyone has equal access to the web and all its resources. This digital divide was on the radar a few years ago, with a push to bring broadband to remote constituencies. But less attention has been devoted to the divide in urban settings, and especially within the hubs of knowledge that are universities.

Yet, as is becoming apparent to education professionals like me, the digital divide exists among our students, and, like everywhere else, it reflects deeper socio-economic, gender and race inequalities. Existing disparities influence who are the “haves” and “have-nots” of information and communication technology. Our universities and student bodies are a microcosm of broader society; they reflect society’s divisions. Though digital disadvantage affects Canadian students, we also have a class of students, often from abroad and often women, with little to no economic safety net in Canada, who can be more cut off from the privileges of our affluent and digitally connected world. Though they are not alone in being affected by the digital divide, they are a group of students at risk of being more hurt by the online migration of teaching components.

We have made the right decision, driven by financial reasoning and the pursuit of diversity, to open our higher education institutions to increasing numbers of international students, including from the developing world. Yet we have not always reflected on the hardships many from the Global South face once they arrive in Canada, including high tuition, lack of funding during the summertime, and their need to support dependents here and abroad, which is often the case.

A number of our students cannot afford the technology that allows full access to university resources. Some students do not have data plans or connection speeds that would allow them to follow online courses, take part in virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom, or have access to the suite of online resources the university has for research.

A 2018 American study showed that students often have the basics such as a cellphone, but 20 percent of students had difficulties accessing information because of hardware, data limits and connectivity issues. Underprivileged groups were likelier to fall within this percentage. For some, their reality is far from the privileged student we often imagine, the one who can go home and be highly connected to all the digital university has to offer.

Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment?

The decision on the part of universities to move all teaching components online is thus leading to heartbreaking decisions – some of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my career. These include: Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment? There are no simple answers. Most professors are adopting a two-tiered strategy: teach online to the many, offer alternatives to the others. In doing so, we are unwillingly reproducing the digital divide and the deeper inequalities that undergird it.

We are working hard to make sure no one will be left behind, but remedial solutions are always second-rate. We can send summaries of online discussions to students who cannot join; we can offer to take questions by email, text or phone. But they pale next to discussions online or recordings of entire lectures.

And, of course, campus libraries, labs remain open – for now – in many cases. Some people will ask: “Couldn’t these students go to campus to avail themselves of wi-fi there or research course material on university equipment?” But with people being told to stay off campuses, this is tantamount to asking our already underprivileged students to accept greater risks to their health and their family’s health so they can keep up with connected students. I have worked in parts of Africa (Great Lakes region, Francophone West Africa) over the last 15 years, and I have seen how the burden of risk is often shifted to those who are most disadvantaged.

Universities have other alternatives, from adopting one low-tech strategy for all, assigning term papers and exams that are less reliant on access to online resources, for example, to simply cancelling the term. Different strategies are being discussed. But for now, courses continue, papers are still due and exams will take place – most of this happening electronically. Digital divide or not, students need to keep accessing information. And they will in all likelihood continue to do so as we begin talking about Spring and Summer terms going online.

To be sure, not all university policies related to COVID-19 have neglected those who face structural discrimination. Many institutions have taken charge of students in residence who cannot return home, though, as of writing, universities are being increasingly more strict about who they agree to keep on campus. But the decision to steadfastly move ahead with an online end of semester is one that reminds us instead that these great institutions of higher knowledge, which we often take be built on a mission of equality and access to all, remain built on important divides and forms of discrimination.

There is little we can do immediately to address these structural inequalities in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. But eventually we must reflect on divides, digital and other, that are woven into the very functioning of our higher education, to address this discrimination and close the digital divide.

A first step would be to cultivate a greater awareness of the structural biases our students face. Universities talk of inclusion and like to show that students are welcome, but they fall short of understanding the real constraints some students live with, and how some of these are grounded in socio-economic, gender and race inequalities.

Measures could then be put in place, for example, to fund laptops, high speed home Internet or cellular data packages for low income students living off campus. The creation of robust funding packages throughout the year could help support international students from the Global South.

The coronavirus crisis reminds us that the use of technological tools can exacerbate exclusion and inequality. Once we have cared for our sick and moved beyond the immediate emergency, we should use our momentum for action to strive for more structurally inclusive higher education institutions.

Source: As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate

Of note:

Sonia Zhao had to lie, in effect, when she left China to teach Mandarin at an Ontario university.

The contract she signed with the Beijing-run Confucius Institute indicated that Falun Gong practitioners – people like her – were barred from the job. But she kept her beliefs secret and hoped she could find more freedom in Canada. It was not to be.

She says she was trained beforehand to spin Beijing’s line if students asked about Tibet and other taboo topics, while Chinese staff at McMaster University’s branch of the institute made clear Falun Gong was poison. After a year, she quit and sought asylum here, becoming perhaps the world’s first Confucius Institute whistle-blower.

“I think they’re aiming to build a really beautiful, healthy image (of China) among those students,” Zhao said about the institute’s ultimate purpose. She believes Canada should have nothing to do with the agency. “It isn’t worth it to give up your freedom of speech or freedom even of thinking just to learn about a different language or culture.”

Her experience in 2011 did lead McMaster to end its relationship with the institute, a division of China’s education ministry that pays for Mandarin-language and cultural programs worldwide – and has long been embroiled in controversy. Advocates call the organization a generously funded cultural bridge, critics decry it as a “Trojan horse” for Chinese propaganda and influence.

But 10 other universities, colleges and boards of education across Canada still host their own Confucius outlets. And a National Post survey of the closely guarded contracts they signed found little in them that might prevent the kind of censorship and discriminatory hiring highlighted by Zhao.

Only one of seven agreements obtained by the Post includes any protection for academic freedom.

Several of the contracts indicate the local institutes must accept the agency headquarters’ assessment of “teaching quality.” One at the University of Waterloo-affiliated Renison College says any disagreements about running the institute should be referred to the Beijing headquarters, called Hanban.

Almost all bar the institutes from contravening Canadian or Chinese law, the latter routinely excoriated for its abuse of basic human rights. They also require compliance with the institute’s own constitution and bylaws. To this day, Hanban’s website says overseas teachers must have “no record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations,” a clear violation of Canadian constitutional and rights law.

Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., even pledged to find a “prominent location” to erect a statue of Confucius to advertise the institute’s presence.

“I would say (Confucius headquarters) have absolute control,” said lawyer Clive Ansley  after reviewing some of the contracts. The former China studies professor practiced for several years in the country. “Any decision on what they call teaching quality, teaching materials, it’s all going to be made by Hanban.”

Ivy Li of the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong said she was struck by the different roles set out in the contracts she perused at the Post’s request.

The Canadian hosts agree to provide office and classroom space and a steady supply of students, and in some cases to promote the program. Most of the contracts also say the Canadian school will provide funding, directly or in kind, at least equal to what the Chinese government contributes.

Hanban, the contracts stipulate, supplies the content – Mandarin teachers, textbooks, course software and other educational materials, which Li said come with Beijing’s particular spin.

“Even purely from a business point of view, it’s a very bad deal,” she charged. “Our universities are being used as a platform to promote (China’s) message, and that message is disinformation.”

But administrators here argue that despite what the contracts suggest, China does not actually interfere in the arrangements – arrangements they argue are an important conduit between the two nations. Meanwhile, they say, political issues never arise in the type of activities – from language training to Tai Chi – the institutes oversee.

“We have not had any pressure from China to do anything other than enhance cultural understanding,” said Lorne Parker, an assistant superintendent with the Edmonton public school division. “We are looking at our relationship with (Confucius Institute) as building a cultural bridge and not a wall. You can have more influence … by having those bridges.”

Launched in 2004, Confucius has opened 540 branches around the world. Unlike Alliance Francaise, the Goethe Institute and other cultural-outreach groups funded by some European states, it is an actual department of government and embeds itself, uniquely, inside foreign educational bodies.

The organization is hosted in Canada by two school boards – Coquitlam, B.C., and Edmonton – plus two colleges – Montreal’s Dawson and Toronto’s Seneca – and six universities – Saint Mary’s, Carleton, Waterloo, Brock, Regina and Saskatchewan.

The official stated goal is to teach Mandarin and spread the good word about Chinese culture and traditions. But even Xu Lin, Hanban’s director general, has said Confucius Institutes are “an important part of our soft power.”

“We want to expand China’s influence. This relies on our instructors, Confucius Institutes and language,” she told a conference in Beijing.

After a burst of expansion in Canada, there has been some retrenchment in recent years. Both McMaster and Quebec’s Sherbrooke University shut down their institutes amid controversy, while New Brunswick is in the process of closing the Confucius program run through one of its school districts. Toronto’s board killed the institute in 2014 just as it was about to launch. The B.C. Institute of Technology’s branch has been suspended.

But the program appears to be going strong elsewhere. To understand what the remaining hosts agreed to in exchange for Beijing’s largesse, the Post asked all for copies of the contracts they signed.

Three refused. Carleton University and Seneca College offered no reason for the denial; St. Mary’s University in Halifax said its contract is “with an external organization, and is a record that is not publicly available.” A university spokesman suggested the Post file a freedom of information request, a process that typically takes months, with no guarantee of success.

In fact, several of the Confucius contracts contain non-disclosure clauses.

Other schools said they had secured Hanban’s permission to release their agreements, or the documents had already been disclosed to local media after freedom of information applications.

All set up an arrangement between the Canadian educational facility and a partner college in China, with a director appointed from each side and a board to oversee the institute. In almost every case, Hanban agrees to supply Mandarin teachers, as many as 3,000 textbooks and other teaching material. Some mention start-up funding from Beijing of $150,000 to $250,000.

China provides about 15 teachers at a time to the Edmonton school district, though they act as “supports” in Mandarin classes that are led by the board’s own staff, said Parker.

“We received about a million dollars’ worth of books and materials from Hanban,” Bob Lajoie of the Coquitlam School District enthused to filmmaker Doris Liu in her documentary In the name of Confucius.

The nature of those books is a concern for some institute critics. Terry Russell, a senior scholar in China studies at the University of Manitoba, said institute texts he’s seen talk of Tibet being “liberated” by China and Taiwan forming part of the country.

“The perspective that is set out in the teaching materials is very much the Chinese perspective,” he said.

Most of the contracts also contain a clause that says “the institute must accept the assessment of the headquarters (Hanban) on the teaching quality.”

It suggests a degree of control by Beijing that director general Xu spelled out openly in an interview previously posted on the organization’s website.

“We haven’t lost education sovereignty,” Xu said. “It’s like the foreign universities work for us.”

Zhao said training before she left China was clear: never mention sensitive topics and if asked about them, offer Beijing’s standard line, that “Tibet is part of China and the government is treating them nicely, that Taiwan is part of China.”

When she and other Confucius teachers at McMaster watched and discussed the Hollywood movie Seven Years in Tibet – a critical look at China’s treatment of the region – their Chinese director said “if we kept talking about those things or watching those things, we need to write a report about our thinking because our minds, our thoughts are not following the Communist party.Institute staff immediately tossed in the garbage a Falun Gong pamphlet brought in by a student, she said.

But Edmonton’s Parker said Hanban does not assess the teaching work there, and suggested the clause was included only to ensure the agency’s teachers provide good-quality instruction.

A Coquitlam spokesman said that its Confucius staff are hired locally, without the agency’s input, and Hanban has never visited the district to perform assessments.

Institute administrators in Canada also deny having to abide by any aspect of Chinese law or Hanban rules, despite what the contracts say.

“I’m not aware of any of those restrictions,” Parker said when asked about the Falun Gong teacher ban.

But if some Canadian Confucius partners dismiss any suggestion of undue influence from China, and their contracts erect limited firewalls against potential Beijing meddling, there is at least one exception.

When the University of Saskatchewan renewed its agreement with Hanban in 2016, it managed to include a provision that said the institute’s activities “will respect academic freedom and transparency, as well as University of Saskatchewan institutional values, priorities and policies.”

Without that caveat, the contract would not have been extended, Karen Chad, the university’s vice-president research, said in a statement.

But critics of the Confucius Institute question whether it will have much impact. To achieve its goals, they say, the institute has never needed to overtly propagate Chinese propaganda. It has taught Mandarin and presented Chinese culture in a way that simply avoids mention of religious persecution, censorship and other topics unflattering to the Communist regime.

“The Canadians get duped as they most often do when they deal with the government of China. They get duped into thinking these things are just cultural institutions and ‘Hey it’s a good idea to have a lot of Canadians learning Mandarin,’ ” said Ansley. “That’s not the Chinese goal at all … The goal is soft power, to promote a favourable image of China in the minds of Canadians.”

Source: Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate

Chinese Universities Are Enshrining Communist Party Control In Their Charters

Sigh. As some have noted, has potential implications in terms of how other countries treat Chinese degrees:

It wasn’t just the fact that one of China’s best universities had changed its charter last December to emphasize loyalty to the ruling Communist Party that raised eyebrows. Shanghai’s Fudan University also deleted principles like freedom of thought, and did so publicly, as if expecting praise.

Furious students staged a rare and risky protest in the school cafeteria in December. They sang the school’s anthem, which praises academic freedom.

“Everyone was enraged,” one of the student protesters told NPR. She withheld her name because of the almost certain repercussions for speaking publicly on the matter.

To disguise their protest plans, the students publicized the event as a marriage proposal.

Fudan is one of at least three universities that have revised their charters since 2018, emphasizing unswerving loyalty to the Communist Party, an NPR analysis found. They have downgraded or erased language about academic freedom from their charters, while adding a new clause: “The university Communist Party committee is the core leadership of the school.”

The move is part of a broader trend that has been growing since 2013, the year Xi Jinping became China’s president. From 2013 to 2017, at least 109 universities unveiled their first-ever charters, affirming party leadership, according to NPR’s analysis.

The new charters effectively hand the party ultimate control over the schools’ administration, mirroring how the party dominates government agencies.

Some of China’s most prestigious universities, including Beijing’s Peking University and Renmin University, have new charters. And Nanjing University, which amended its charter in December, has a prominent international studies program jointly administered with Johns Hopkins University.

Academic freedom has always been precarious in China, although the 2000s saw a brief liberalization. But since Xi took office, academics say, ideological constraints have intensified, stifling discourse and innovation at home even as China seeks a global footprint in academia.

There are still some holdouts. For example, East China Normal University and Wuhan University — which have joint-venture campuses in the Shanghai area with New York University and Duke University, respectively — have not amended their charters, which still contain commitments to academic freedom.

But at the universities that have adopted pro-party charters, say academics interviewed by NPR, the rule change encapsulates some of the difficulties that educators face in China.

“I think it is a good thing that charters now reflect reality more accurately,” says Qiao Mu, who once taught journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He left China for the U.S. in 2017 after his career was stymied because of his political outspokenness. “Why include all this pretty language about democratic freedom and freedom of thought if there is none of that?”

Teachers punished

Cao Zhenhua has experienced the restraints firsthand. In 2018, he was fired as a lecturer at Guizhou Minzu University after being accused of questioning the current relevance of Marxism in a seminar.

“The university party secretary, institute director and local party officials tried to move me to library duties because of my political problems, but I put up a huge fight,” Cao remembers. Four professors were docked pay, but because Cao pushed back on his punishment, he was dismissed.

“This kind of ideological thinking is like that of the class-struggle sessions during the Cultural Revolution,” Cao says, referring to a violent period in the 1960s and 1970s in China when Chairman Mao Zedong sought to root out political enemies.

Universities’ local party representatives, backed by an emboldened public security apparatus, increasingly call the shots at school. When Yang Shaozheng, a former economics professor at Guizhou University, came under fire in 2018 for writing and commenting critically on Chinese politics, public security officials called him in and reprimanded him.

“They said, ‘You can no longer use case studies drawn from reality in your lectures. You also must stop publishing political essays online.’ They told me, ‘Shut your stinking mouth.’ I told them, as a university professor, what I choose to talk about is my right,” Yang recounts, his voice rising in anger at the memory.

University administrators did not defend him. Yang was fired that August.

Campus party informants

Much of the control on campuses is implemented through low-tech means: human monitors. Students say classes are quietly seeded with student party members, who secretly report what teachers and students opine during lectures to party committees and school counselors.

“It took so much effort to say even one phrase. You had to pay attention to people’s expressions. One person might hear me and agree. But another person might hear me and report me. I could not give lectures in such circumstances, short of simply reading from the textbook,” says You Shengdong.

You, an economics professor, was sacked in 2018 from Xiamen University, he says, after unknown students reported him for criticizing slogans used by Chinese leader Xi and the growing role of inefficient state-owned enterprises in the economy. Administrators, threatening to draw on footage taken from cameras installed in his classroom, sided with the students who reported him.

Notices at Shaanxi Normal University, one of the three universities that publicly changed their charters to reflect party loyalty in December, detail the responsibilities of student spies, or “information officers,” as they are officially called. These informants must possess “a certain level of political sensitivity,” the notices say, and must report on student and teacher opinions regarding school and national policies as well as any “major social events.”

“We simply keep an eye on things,” says an undergraduate information officer at Peking University who declined to be named because of the political sensitivity of this work.

December’s anthem-singing protest at Fudan University illustrates just how such a monitoring network can mobilize to quickly control small-scale incidents.

A student who created the chat group to organize the protest deleted the group from WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app, in the early morning hours before the event, after his school counselor got wind of the scheme and pressured him to withdraw.

University counselors assigned to students are responsible for their “political thought education,” to make sure they are both on track academically and also steering clear of political activities, according to university hiring notices.

The day after the singing protest, members of the party youth league at Fudan University posted a prewritten statement on WeChat: “The school anthem remains the same. Not only does Fudan have academic independence and freedom of thought, but it also educates the country’s future leaders, strengthens the university and protects the country. The determination that led us to Fudan in the first place hasn’t changed. If given a second chance, I’d still choose Fudan.” Professors who posted veiled statements of support for the protest on WeChat were told to take their posts down.

“I thought Fudan was relatively free. But oftentimes, what the students are told has already been censored from above,” says the Fudan student protester.

“How can innovation happen in a society like this?” asks Shi Jiepeng, a classical-Chinese expert who is now a visiting scholar at University of Tokyo. Shi was also singled out by party inspectors three years ago because of remarks he had made about deceased Chinese leaders such as Mao and Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty.

Anonymous calls from people allegedly offended by his comments also began pouring into his department’s office phone. Online trolls heaped abuse upon Shi on WeChat and another popular social platform, Weibo. Shi was eventually fired in July 2017 from his position as assistant professor of classical Chinese at Beijing Normal University.

He says his managers had received numerous complaints from students about remarks he had made in lectures in previous years, but his managers only quietly reprimanded him before dismissing the claims. “The problem is not that Chinese students and colleagues are reporting their professors. That phenomenon has always existed,” says Shi.

But now, Shi says, China’s political environment has changed in such a way that university administrators are receptive to such complaints and are pressured to take immediate action. “The problem is that the political winds have shifted at the top,” Shi says, “and that shift has been orchestrated by the political leaders themselves.”

Source: Chinese Universities Are Enshrining Communist Party Control In Their Charters