Dependent on foreign students, Canada universities risk revenues as vaccines lag

More on the impact on university revenues from COVID-19 travel restrictions and a reference to how Canada’s currently lower vaccination rate may affect Canada’s relative competitiveness in attracting international students:

Public universities have become increasingly dependent on foreign students, who pay far higher tuition than domestic students, to boost their profits. International enrollment jumped 45% over the last five years, advocacy group Universities Canada said, but it fell 2.1% this year amid coronavirus restrictions.

Reuters Graphic

That decline, coupled with a sharp fall in revenues from campus services like conferences, dorms, food halls and parking, has hit the schools hard. Canada’s slow vaccine campaign – it currently lags well behind global peers on inoculations – and the emergence of new variants, could extend the slump in enrollment and campus revenues into the next year school, experts warn.

“Overall, we are expecting universities to post consolidated deficits this year,” said Michael Yake, a senior analyst with rating agency Moody’s.

It is still too soon to know the final impact of COVID-19 on the current year. The University of British Columbia, for example, is projecting a deficit of C$225 million ($177.2 million) this year compared with a C$60 million surplus budgeted pre-COVID-19. And the uncertainty will continue.

“We’re not assuming the vaccine is going to be in place for the fall,” Yake added. “Even if in Canada the vaccines are available, that doesn’t means it’s going to be available for the international students.”


While most of Canada’s universities are well positioned to weather the COVID-19 storm, an unexpected move by Laurentian University in Ontario to file for creditor protection this month has sparked concerns. Experts says that while Laurentian’s situation is unique, other schools also face cost pressures and some may be too reliant on foreign tuition.

International students brought in almost C$4 billion in annual revenue for Canadian universities in 2017/18, the most recent data from Statistics Canada showed. On average, they pay five times the tuition of domestic students and account for nearly 40% of all tuition fees.

Reuters Graphic

At Canada’s top three ranked universities, foreign students make up at least a quarter of the student body. Many stay in Canada after graduation and contribute to economic growth.

Canada did stave off a feared enrollment plunge this year, in part because the federal government made it easier for international students to get work permits after graduation, but the huge gains in foreign students of the previous five years are likely over.

Indeed a trend that saw many international students choose Canada over the United States in recent years could reverse as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration overhauls the U.S. immigration.

“Something that’s benefited Canada for some time is the political environment in the U.S., as it drove more international students to Canada,” said Travis Shaw, a senior analyst at rating agency DBRS Morningstar.

The change of administration “probably means we’ve got more competition for those international students in the years ahead,” he said.

An increase in domestic students could offset some of the need for new foreign students, but their lower tuition fees will create a significant financial gap. Other cost-saving alternatives might include reducing course offerings and consolidating smaller schools.

And while international enrollment is expected to stabilize as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the longer the pandemic drags on, the greater the risk that more international students will go elsewhere to study, particularly if competitor campuses are able to safely reopen before those in Canada.

“Most students want to come to Canada for the student experience. If a student experience does not seem viable over the term of the course, it is sure to be a deterrent,” said Aditi Joshi, an analyst at DBRS Morningstar.


David Feldman: The UK government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities

On the risks of universities applying the IHRA definition of antisemitism:

We all know how the path to hell is paved. But it is a warning worth repeating for Gavin Williamson. The secretary of state for education intends to rid universities in England of antisemitism, but his intervention not only threatens to provoke strife and confusion – it also places academic freedom and free speech on campus at risk.

In October, Williamson wrote to all university vice-chancellors “requesting” they adopt a particular definition of antisemitism: the “working definition” promulgated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. Williamson is not the first ministerto write to universities on this matter, but he has been more forceful than his predecessors. His letter demands action by Christmas, and threatens swingeing measures against refusenik institutions that later suffer antisemitic incidents. He threatens to remove funding and the power to award degrees from universities that do not share his faith in the efficacy of the IHRA working definition.

This is misguided, for a number of reasons. First, it misconceives the task universities face. As shown in a report released last week by Universities UK – Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education – structural racism in universities is profound, and racial harassment on campus is widespread. These are problems that universities must address. The imposed adoption of the IHRA working definition will not meet this challenge. It will, however, privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections, and in doing so will divide minorities against each other. For this reason alone, Williamson should pause and consider how best to protect students and university staff from racism broadly as well as from antisemitism.

Foreign students start gradual return — along with their much-missed tuition

Will continue to watch application and admission statistics to assess the return:

Canada will begin allowing international students into the country on Tuesday, but it may take weeks before they arrive in significant numbers.

Travel restrictions are being lifted on Oct. 20, allowing foreign students to enter Canada if their post-secondary institutions’ COVID-19-readiness plans are approved by a provincial or territorial government. Universities, colleges and language schools are required to have a plan to quarantine students for 14 days.

Since March, international travel restrictions have limited entry into Canada for most non-essential travellers.

The return of foreign students is a relief for Canada’s post-secondary schools, with universities potentially losing as much as $3.4 billion this year, due mainly to the drop in international students, Statistics Canada reported earlier this month.

Tuition fees paid by foreign students have become an ever-bigger source of revenue for universities. The average tuition paid by an international student this year is $32,041, almost five times what a Canadian student pays. And the number of foreign students in Canada has tripled in 12 years to more than 640,000, generating roughly $22 billion a year in economic activity in Canada, according to federal estimates.

“This could be in the billions of dollars of loss this year alone,” said Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, which represents 135 post-secondary institutions.

Amyot said the return of international students will benefit rural colleges, in particular, where there are seldom enough domestic students to fill classes. Foreign students are also important because many decide to settle in Canada and are often trained for occupations that are short of workers, she said.

“Those are potential immigrants for our country,” Amyot said. “If they know the language, they have studied here, and they have Canadian experience, they make really well-prepared Canadians.”

With the fall semester well underway, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) spokesperson Shannon Ker told iPolitics that amendments to travel restrictions that kick in Tuesday “should result in a gradual movement of international students to Canada.”

Many foreign students are arranging to arrive before the winter semester starts in January, said Bryn de Chastelain, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

“I’m not sure if we’ll see a huge influx starting tomorrow, but I think, over the next few months, we will start to see kind of a slow trickle begin to pick up,” de Chastelain said.

Ker said it’s too hard to guess how many students will arrive in the weeks ahead, but it would depend on how many decide to study online from their home countries and the number of institutions that have their readiness plans approved. But a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities says it has given 12 publicly funded schools the green light so far.

IRCC has yet to publish the list of schools — known formally as “designated learning institutions” — whose plans have been approved, although its website says it will be available by Oct. 20.

Students arriving in Canada must undergo the same screening and quarantine as any other traveller.

But the students’ arrival may be delayed because Canadian visa-application offices abroad are short-staffed due to the pandemic, Amyot said. That includes those in India, where most foreign students attending Canadians colleges and institutes come from.

International students require two stages of permits in order to study in Canada. Stage 2 includes biometrics, a medical exam, and a criminal background check that often require physically going to a visa office.

“That will become a barrier, because they need those biometrics to travel to Canada,” Amyot said.

The IRCC’s Ker said that, since March 15, more than 121,000 study permits have been issued, of which 10,000 are initial study permits and 111,000 are study permit extensions. In most cases, applicants approved for an initial study permit are abroad, whereas applicants approved for a study permit extension are already in Canada.

According to de Chastelain, foreign students have received “next-to-no financial support” from Ottawa during the pandemic. He said the federal government should help students struggling financially, and cover some expenses for digital technology as most classes move online. One idea de Chastelain proposes is reallocating unspent funds from the $9-billion student-aid package announced in April.

Despite the pandemic, most international and out-of-province students still prefer to live near the schools they’re attending, he said.

Source: Foreign students start gradual return — along with their much-missed tuition

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.”