UK universities are extremely reliant on overseas students for their funding and in particular Chinese students. As of last year, Chinese students accounted for £1.7billion, with the number of students coming from the country rising to 120,385 in 2019. With the UK clashing with China over the Hong Kong security law and treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, there have been increased calls to protect our institutions from being so dependent on overseas students for funding.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, former adviser to Theresa May and the director of think-tank, Onward, Will Tanner, warned the Government has allowed some of our best institutions to be completely reliant on Chinese students.
Due to this, he warned there could now be a serious risk the Chinese government could use students as potential leverage against the UK during future trade disputes or talks.
He added: “I think what is worrying, without any debate, we have seen an extraordinary increase in the number of students coming from China and the reliance on funding from those students.
“It creates the risk, a strategic risk that our institution are at the whim of Chinese emigration policy.
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“There is a risk that the Chinese gov starts to use some of that leverage to place pressure on the UK in wider security or trade disputes.
“They haven’t done it yet, but we have to recognise that. “
In a report, penned by Mr Tanner, the group calls for the Government to make changes to higher education.
Indeed, the report – published earlier this year – insisted the Government must introduce higher levels of funding for courses to encourage domestics students.
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They also stated the Government must put a cap on the amount of money any university can make from students from one country in particular.
Amid the concerns over the financial reliance on Chinese students, the UK Government has also broadened the topics within its Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) specification.
When studying subjects which could use a students’ knowledge in programmes to develop Advanced Conventional Military Technology (ACMT), weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or their means of delivery, an ATAS is required.
A Whitehall source said: “The Atas system is being expanded as security threats are constantly evolving.
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“It’s no surprise that we attract some of the brightest talents from around the world but there are those who would seek to exploit our position as a leader in science and innovation.”
According to The Times, visas for students already enrolled could now be revoked if they are deemed a security risk.
The measures were signed off by the national security committee earlier this year amid concerns over the Chinese Communist Party.
Amid the scope of China’s Hong Kong security law, UK universities have also drawn up regulations to protects students.
Across the country, academic institutions will now ask students studying subjects relating to China to submit work anonymously.
As well as doing this, students will be advised against recording lectures, while group tutorials will be replaced by one on one.
Patricia Thornton, associate professor of Chinese politics at Oxford University, said: “The entire spirit of the tutorial, which rests on collective critical inquiry, rises or falls on the ability of the institution to guarantee free speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom for all.
“But how to do this in the wake of China’s new national security law for Hong Kong, which invites self-censorship with its lack of red lines and generous extraterritorial provision?
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“How does one protect academic freedom when China claims the right to intervene everywhere?
“I have decided not to alter the content of my teaching.
“However, like my colleagues in the US, I am mindful of my duty of care for my students, many of whom are not UK citizens.
“My students will be submitting and presenting work anonymously in order to afford some extra protection.”