In recent years China has begun to fund many European universities and has expanded its soft power into the academic sphere. As we all should know at this point, Chinese money does not come without strings attached, and some of the courses that have been funded have been tantamount to propaganda. Meanwhile, European universities continue to accept ever-increasing numbers of Chinese students. It has been argued that by allowing Chinese students to study and spend time here in Europe, we may be able to influence their values and in the long run, bring China’s values closer to those of the West. But so far, little or no empirical evidence exists that studying in Europe causes Chinese students to embrace Western values.
On 31 July 2020, German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Christine Anderson of the Identity and Democracy Group tabled a written parliamentary question to the European Commission.
MEP Anderson enquired “what measures the Commission intends to take to limit China’s influence at European universities” and “whether the Commission would consider commissioning longitudinal values surveys to ensure that Chinese students at European universities are adopting Western values during their time here”.
Lastly, MEP Anderson asked the Commission “whether it would agree to withdraw EU funding from universities that receive funding from China (other than tuition fees from Chinese students)”.
On 09 December, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, responsible for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, responded on behalf of the European Commission and stated that “higher education and research institutions recognise the vital importance of cooperating across borders”.
Commissioner Gabriel further reported that “the Commission’s Communication on the European Education Area recognises the global dimension of EU action under a Team Europe approach, promoting EU fundamental values and shaping the thinking of the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs in partner countries across the globe” and “while greatly contributing to the success of world-class universities and research organisations, this openness towards collaborating with third countries may also potentially facilitate actions which could compromise the very academic freedom, integrity and autonomy on which our higher education and research institutions are built”.
She clarified that “the Commission is currently analysing the situation and considering measures to limit any potential adverse effects of international cooperation”. She explained that “the Commission recognises the major contribution that international study and research mobility, like Erasmus+ mobility, make to enhancing cultural awareness and mutual understanding, and to creating lasting links between Europe and leading practitioners and decision-makers in partner countries” and “in their post-mobility report, beneficiaries of Erasmus+ higher education grants are asked to comment if they feel more European or are more aware of fundamental values”.
In closing, Commissioner Gabriel asserted that “Erasmus+ funding to universities is based on quality assessment, which considers the relevance and added value of the project” and “Erasmus+ funds cannot be used for activities that are already financed from another source but the funding would not be withdrawn from universities that receive third-country funding for other activities”.
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