Author Ian Williams Warns that Scottish Universities are Dangerously Dependent on Chinese Funding

  29 Sep '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

China has been making global headlines recently with its increasingly hostile actions towards Taiwan, a topic covered at length in Former Channel 4 Asia CorrespondentIan William’s new book, The Fire of the Dragon: China’s New Cold War. But China poses a threat not just to its closest neighbours, but as far as the Arctic, cyberspace, and our own borders in Scotland. Ian Williams warns that

As Scottish universities prepare for the new academic year, there is no sign they are heeding increasingly stark warnings about their dangerous dependence on Chinese money or their ties to organisations linked to the Chinese Communist Party.’

Chinese students make up the largest group of international students studying at Scottish Universities by a large margin. Williams explains, ‘Last year, students from China paid a combined £245 million in fees at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt universities. That represents almost a third of the total fee income of £790 million.’

In the event of a possible ‘catastrophic’ breakdown in relations with China, the economic impact on Scotland due to the loss of tuition from Chinese students would be even more devastating than what we are currently seeing with the collapse of educational ties with Russia. The incoming head of Universities UK Vivienne Stern forewarns that ‘the difference would be an order of magnitude greater; it would be catastrophic.’

Ian Williams

Williams also notes that Scottish Universities have neglected to close Chinese teaching institutions which are explicitly funded by the Chinese government and have been accused of censorship and promoting Communist Party propaganda. The former rectors of Glasgow and Edinburgh universities have recently spoken out with concerns regarding Confucius institutes, which claim to promote Chinese culture on campuses and in Scottish schools but have also been accused of repressing free speech about issues sensitive to the Communist Party, such as Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. Last month Rishi Sunak, the Conservative leadership challenger, vowed to crack down on ‘China’s soft power’ by overruling the Scottish government and Scottish university principals to force their closure. There are 30 Confucius institutes in the UK, including five in Scotland – at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt universities.

There are further potential risks involved with both The Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) and research undertaken at Scottish Universities which could have technological and military applications for China. Williams comments that ‘The CSSA has been accused of organising flash mobs in Scotland to intimidate Hong Kong students protesting against the crushing of democratic rights in Hong Kong.’ And Edinburgh in particular enjoys close research ties with Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant closely linked to the Chinese Communist Party, which was barred from Britain’s 5G networks over national security concerns.

‘Scottish universities appear to be tone deaf to the growing risks over-dependence on China, and increasingly vulnerable to the impact of deteriorating relations with Beijing.’

Ian Williams

To read more about China’s complex and aggressive foreign policy and its potential effects, get a copy of the engaging new book here:

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