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UK HE: £30.5m from “sanctioned sources” in China

Funding from China “may pose” a risk to the UK’s university system and research could be being “exploited by the Chinese military in a way the researchers could never have envisaged”, a paper from a right-of-centre think-tank in the UK has claimed.

November 22, 2023

Civitas’s The Strategic Dependence of UK Universities on China – and where should they turn next? report found that between 2017 and 2022/23, 46 UK higher education institutions received between £122-£156 million from Chinese sources.

The calculations are based on FOIs received from 46 UK universities.

Researchers note that none of those mentioned in the report are accused of knowingly contributing to the development of China’s military or military industries. Instead any sponsorship and research relationships have been entered into in good faith and in the belief that the scientific outputs will have purely civil ends, they said.

The report adds that between £19.9m-£30.5m of the funding has come from Chinese sources which were subjected to US sanctions at the time of funding.

It made a raft of recommendations, including removing Chinese Students and Scholars Associations, the China Scholarship Council and Confucius Institutes from British universities. PM Rishi Sunak campaigned to close Confucius Institutes in 2022 before making a u-turn this year.

The report claims that the China Scholarship Council “has been shown to be a one-way only transaction” and that UK universities are “haemorrhaging millions of pounds a year in subsidised student fees for ideologically acceptable Chinese students to study in the UK”.

“The UK gets little out of this relationship, except welcoming CCP agents on to British campuses,” it claims. The report details how many CSC scholarships are available at a number of institutions, including Bath, Hull, University College London and Durham, among others.

King’s College London has 100 slots available, University of Bristol 60 scholarships, University of Exeter 50 scholarships and University of Cambridge 30 scholarships, for example.

It does not provide detailed evidence of the scholars on the program being CCP agents however. It also fails to mention that researchers are required to apply for an Academic Technology Approval Scheme certificate from the UK government if they are applying to study certain “sensitive subjects”.

It says that institutions should reduce the number of Chinese students in favour of incentivising students from Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as the Commonwealth, with a revision of international fees, bursaries, grants and “other such assistance”.

“A special Commonwealth Nations International Fees Programme would studiously help in this regard, in addition to strengthening some of the UK’s strongest partnerships,” it suggested.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the report’s author Robert Clark said that up to one third of all Chinese research funding, grants and contributions made to UK universities come from entities “explicitly linked” to the People’s Liberation Army in various forms.

Examples include funders linked to China’s largest hypersonic missile technology testing institute, the largest supplier of precision guided missiles, its largest military aviation company, a military aerospace research institute and its primary nuclear warheads research centre, he wrote in the the politically conservative newspaper.

“These [funders] alone have contributed at least £7.3 million to British universities in recent years,” he added.

The report notes Huawei – which the UK government has ordered to be removed from the UK’s 5G public networks and labelled by the Trump White House a “Communist Chinese military company” – has contributed at least £14 million in research funding since the 5G ban in 2022.

“The time has finally come to get tougher on China, particularly when our relationship is all too often characterised by one-way transactional relations which only harm our national security, and embolden a likely future adversary intent on re-writing the global order in its own malign and authoritarian image,” Clark added.

“We must end these damaging collaborations with China’s defence industrial base – that is a start, at least.”


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