Leading universities in Scotland have reportedly faced calls to close Chinese education centres that have been branded an extension of the Beijing government.
Former rectors of the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow have said they are concerned about Confucius institutes, which promote Chinese culture on campus in higher education as well as in Scottish schools.
Their calls have focused on the reliance of universities on funding from China, despite concerns raised over its government’s human rights record, including a crackdown on Xinjiang’s native Uighur and Kazakh communities.
Aamer Anwar, former rector at the University of Glasgow, said there is no question Confucius institutes should be closed.
The political activist and lawyer told The Sunday Times: “For far too long there has been an overreliance on Chinese students, meaning without them many universities would face financial ruin.
“In essence it has led to a lowering of academic standards, turning of a blind eye to the genocide of the Uighurs, and self-censorship that in essence is brought about by institutes accused of being fronts for the Chinese regime and nothing more than Trojan horses.
“Of course they should be shut down.”
A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said it is proud of its international standing, adding: “We believe that providing opportunities for our students to share and learn from different cultures not only enriches their academic experience but makes them well-rounded graduates and global citizens.
“International students contribute enormously to life on campus as well as providing cultural, societal and economic benefits.”
Ann Henderson, former rector at the University of Edinburgh, said “many concerns” have been raised about the activities of Confucius institutes on campuses which “needs to be looked at”.
She added: “The impact of the pandemic, which temporarily restricted international students, including from China, coming to Scotland, should have acted as a wake-up call for the system that it has to future-proof itself against unforeseen shocks, particularly on the international stage.”
The University of Edinburgh has been contacted for comment.
A Scottish Government spokesperson told the publication: “As autonomous bodies, universities are responsible for their international academic links and partnerships.
“However we expect all universities to understand and manage the reputational, ethical and security risks associated with international partnerships.”
There 30 Confucius institutes the UK and five are in Scotland.
Tory leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak has previously pledged, and continues to promise in his campaign for Number 10, to close all of them and “kick the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) out of our universities”, declaring China “the biggest long-term threat to Britain”.
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