China Collaboration
Image credits: Flickr/ Rubem Porto Jr

UK universities urged to reconsider close research relations with China

Former universities minister Jo Johnson has concluded that closer collaboration with China poses “poorly understood” risks, in a recent study.

The study, led by Johnson, was conducted with the Policy Institute at King’s College London, Harvard Kennedy School and the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate.

“The UK urgently needs to put in place a framework for this key relationship so that it will be able to withstand rising geopolitical tensions. Failure to do so risks real damage to our knowledge economy,” said Johnson to The Guardian.

“The UK needs to do a better job of measuring, managing and mitigating risks that are at present poorly understood and monitored.”

The report went on to state: “The UK’s dependence on a neo-totalitarian technology power for the financial health and research output of its universities is now regarded as a particular point of vulnerability.”

The UK needs to do a better job of measuring, managing and mitigating risks that are at present poorly understood and monitored

– Jo Johnson, Former Universities Minister

The study further highlights how China is set to surpass the US as main research partner with the UK, with a tenfold increase in research partnerships, from 750 in 2000 to 16,267 in 2019.

This “heightened degree of integration makes any idea of decoupling from China both unviable and unlikely to be in the national interest”, the report adds.

“Disorderly disengagement would damage the UK university system, with significant costs for tertiary education and the performance of the UK knowledge economy,” it warns.

In another study led by the think-tank Civitas, it was claimed that at least half of Russell Group universities in the UK had relationships with universities or companies linked to China’s military.

Of these universities, Imperial College London, Cambridge, and Manchester have been accused of unintentionally benefiting the Chinese military with bilateral research undertaken.

Universities UK guidance proposed guidelines in the handling of online education, and academics demanded more say in international research deals to prevent foreign interference in back in October 2020.

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