Overseas Students: China and Hong Kong

Department for Education written question – answered at on 24 May 2024.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask His Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the Amnesty International report published on 13 May “On my campus, I am afraid": China's Targeting of Overseas Students Stifles Rights; and what action they are taking with allies to protect Chinese and Hong Kong students studying abroad who are subject to intimidation and surveillance from Chinese agents.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Lords Spokesperson (Equalities)

The government’s International Education Strategy and its recent update make clear that the internationalisation of the higher education (HE) sector cannot come at any cost. Universities must ensure they have appropriate processes in place to manage risk.

The department recognises concerns about overseas interference in the HE sector and regularly assess the risks facing staff and students.

The Integrated Review Refresh, which this government published in March 2023, sets out in clear terms the UK’s policy towards engagement with China and Chinese entities.

Any attempt by any foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals or communities in the UK, or on campuses abroad, will not be tolerated. This is an insidious threat to democracy and fundamental human rights.

The department passed the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 to further protect the UK’s campuses from interference and other threats to lawful freedom of speech. The Act strengthens existing freedom of speech duties placed upon HE providers in England and creates new routes of redress if these duties are breached.

The department has made the Commencement Regulations to ensure the main provisions of the Act are in place for 1 August 2024.

Where providers are operating campuses abroad, they must take, and should already be taking, reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech within the law on those campuses.

HE providers are independent autonomous organisations and therefore responsible for ensuring they have adequate governance and risk management procedures in place when accepting donations. The department expects the HE sector to be alert to risks when collaborating with any international partners.

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