By Mark McLaughlin
August 10, 2022
Shirley-Anne Somerville said that school partnerships with the Chinese government were free from influence of the oppressive government in Beijing
Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish education secretary, has dismissed warnings from defence experts that a school partnership with the Chinese government risks national security.
Somerville said that Confucius classrooms were simply language and cultural hubs, free from influence of the oppressive government in Beijing.
She yesterday visited Stirling High School, which hosts one of 22 Confucius hubs in Scottish schools funded by the Chinese government. Beijing pays each school £10,000 a year to host the classes, which are also in schools such as Jordanhill in Glasgow and St Ninian’s in East Dunbartonshire.
Unlike other UK administrations, the Scottish government jointly funds the cultural programmes, which began in 2004 to promote Chinese language and culture, alongside Hanban, the Beijing government language body that has paid £13 million to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt and Strathclyde universities over 15 years.
Somerville said that “the Chinese government, and anyone else outside Scottish education, do not have a view or a say on how Confucius Institutes are run in our schools”.
Academic studies have raised concerns that Confucius Institutes have been used to suppress criticism of China’s oppression of its Uighur minority or its ambition to bring Taiwan under Beijing control. They have also been accused of spying on Chinese students to ensure they do not bring China into disrepute.
Somerville, pressed on claims the institutes are used to spy on Chinese students, said: “I think that bears no relation to the fact that I am in a Confucius [Hub] on exam results day.” She said Confucius classrooms offer a route “for young people to experience Mandarin and learn about Chinese culture”.
“Confucius Institutes in universities are up to universities in how they set them up, but clearly we have commitments to academic free speech, as does every institution.”
Aamer Anwar, the human rights lawyer who was rector of Glasgow University in 2017-20, said the institutes “should be shut down”.
He told The Sunday Times: “It has led to a lowering of academic standards, turning of a blind eye to the genocide of the Uighurs, and self-censorship that in essence is brought about by institutes accused of being fronts for the Chinese regime and nothing more than Trojan horses.”