Higher Education: China

Department for Education written question – answered at on 13 March 2024.

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Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether she has had recent discussions with (a) the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and (b) representatives of higher education institutions on the potential impact of such institutions' collaboration with Chinese higher education bodies linked to the People's Liberation Army on national security.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Education)

The government takes the risk of foreign interference in our higher education (HE) sector extremely seriously, regardless of its source. The department has made it clear that it will not accept collaborations that compromise national security. The department recognises concerns about interference in the HE sector and regularly assesses the risks facing academia, working with partners across government. The department will continue to take steps to significantly strengthen the UK’s protections from overseas interference in our HE sector, helping to safeguard intellectual property and sensitive research.

The ‘Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023’ will ensure that universities in England have the tools they need to deal with interference with, and threats to, freedom of speech and academic freedom. The Act will enable the Office for Students to monitor the overseas funding of registered HE providers and their constituent institutions and student unions, and to take appropriate action.

The department expects Confucius Institutes at UK universities to operate transparently and within the law, and with a full commitment to the government's values of openness and freedom of expression. The department has taken action to remove any direct or indirect government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK.

The ‘Integrated Review Refresh’, published in 2023, committed to launching a review of legislative and other measures designed to protect the academic sector, to identify what more the government could or should be doing. This is currently underway and is led by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. This will include an assessment of the risks to research security as a result of collaboration with international bodies.

The department also works with the sector to improve HE providers’ overall resilience and economic security. The department has encouraged Universities UK to publish a number of guidelines and case studies to enable HE providers to assess risks associated with international collaboration.

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