UK universities must begin to “recognise threats and redouble their efforts” to “protect, preserve and promote” their underpinning values, said a government minister on March 17.
During a debate on the second day of Universities UK International’s IHEF conference, parliamentary under-secretary at the DIT Graham Stuart and the vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh Peter Mathieson faced off on the topic of security in international education.
“There’s so many other reasons for the international student presence in British universities”
“Despite freedom of information processes, there isn’t even transparency about how we be funding certain research or other activities,” said Stuart.
“There is quite alarming evidence about the extent of Chinese influence on the campuses of UK universities – hardly surprising when Chinese students make up to 29% of foreign students and 10% of all fee income,” he pointed out.
Mathieson, however, countered that this shouldn’t always be the universities’ responsibility to police – and that the government should be stepping in to assist if it is so worried.
“If [the government] would like to reduce the dependence of British universities on international students there’s a very simple solution: they could properly fund British universities,” he countered.
Mathieson went on to point out that education is also underfunded in Scotland, where he is a vice chancellor.
He also said that the value of these students is not purely research based or monetary.
“In my opinion, there’s so many other reasons for the international student presence in British universities – it enhances the experience for home students to be mixing with people from all over the world – it gives us connections,” Mathieson explained.
Stuart went one step further in the debate, and whilst agreeing with Mathieson’s point, rounding back to the topic of outside influence as a problem.
“These people are alive and well, managing, observing and motivating decent Chinese students on our campuses, and we do need to open to that,” he conceded.
“The vast majority are here because they see good educational opportunity and good developmental opportunity”
“Russia uses influence operations, perhaps externally in a kind of disruptive way, and it can be argued that China largely works within systems, especially if it can find people naive enough not to realise that setting up institutions on that campus would be some sort of threat,” he insisted.
Mathieson countered strongly, insisting that while it was impossible to monitor everyone, the influence would essentially be limited.
“The vast majority of Chinese students – I can’t possibly vouch for all and will say some of them are not either feeding information back or indeed working on behalf of the government – are here because they see good educational opportunity and good developmental opportunity,” Mathieson declared.
“They probably don’t agree with our political system, either, but they’re coming here because they seek education, and I think we should recognise that and respect it,” he added.
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