The University has decided to not pursue new funding opportunities with Chinese tech giant Huawei and its related companies in response to spying allegations.
The University currently has two on-going projects with Huawei, with funding for both totalling £692,000. These projects were approved by the University prior to concerns being raised internationally.
The University decided to initiate the suspension on the 8 January and it will last at least three months. Oxford will continue with existing research contracts where funding has already been committed.
The telecommunications company has been accused by the US and others of spying on clients for the Chinese government and stealing trade secrets.
A spokesperson for the University told Cherwell: “Huawei has been notified of the decision, which the University will keep under review. The decision applies both to the funding of research contracts and of philanthropic donations.
“The decision has been taken in light of public concerns raised in recent months surrounding UK partnerships with Huawei. We hope these matters can be resolved shortly and note Huawei’s own willingness ot reassure governments about its role and activities.”
Oxford Chancellor Chris Patten warned MPs last week that China was attempting to exert a sway over Britain’s universities, highlighting Oxford’s particular vulnerabilities.
Giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the former colonial governor of Hong Kong urged universities and government to remain vigilant against manipulative academic practices.
Chancellor Patten called for more collaboration between academics and the British state to counter Chinese influence: “[I]t would be very helpful if there was more agreement within Government about what is acceptable, and if there were a point of contact in Government to which all universities can turn.”
Chancellor Patten noted Oxford’s extensive involvement with the Chinese government, including the recently-opened research centre in Suzhou: “We have quite a few Chinese benefactors. Now we have a huge number of Chinese alumni because we have got over 1,300 Chinese postgraduate and undergraduate students at Oxford – more than most universities – and about 240 academic staff. This is a subject that we are really live to.”
Patten hinted that universities would be under greater financial pressure to accept foreign donations post-Brexit. He also highlighted the importance of donor transparency in countering such influence.
Patten described Confucius Institutes, Chinese government-funded cultural institutes attached to foreign universities, as “an offshoot of the propaganda department of the Communist party.”
He said: “If the Confucius Institute is working on a university campus as a contributor to Chinese language instruction, to understanding about the spectacular Chinese civilisation, that is fine. If it is trying to shape the curriculum, or shape students’ attitudes to Tibet, or Xinjiang, or free speech, or other issues like that, it is not acceptable.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy told Cherwell that the Confucius Institute “is a joint venture between a Chinese university and a foreign host university upon the latter’s application. The Chinese university respects the host’s right to make their decision in running the Institute and never interferes in academic freedom.
“The Confucius Institute is strictly for public good, focusing on mutual exchange and providing people with an opportunity to learn the Chinese language and culture, to strengthen educational and cultural cooperation, and to build friendships. The Institute has never participated in any activities in the host country that are political or religious in nature, and will not do so in the future.”
A spokesperson for the University stressed that Lord Patten’s comments were “applied to the higher education sector in general and he does not have specific concerns relating to Oxford.”
Huawei is under investigation int he US and facing a ban in Poland after an employee was charged with espionage. The governments of Australia and New Zealand have blocked the company’s involvement in their internet infrastructures, while Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou is currently detained in Canada awaiting extradition to the United States on charges of violating sanctions on Iran.
Other universities that have partnered with Huawei include Cambridge, Cardiff, York, Manchester, Edinburgh and Imperial College, London.