British Universities Comply with Chinese Internet Censorship

Counter-protesters hold up Chinese flags to oppose the protesters gathering in central London to attend a march organised by StandwithHK and D4HK in support of Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, on August 17, 2019. - Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement faces a major test this weekend as it tries to muster …

British universities are engaging with a Chinese online platform so that its learning materials comply with China’s repressive internet regulations.

Four top Russell Group universities — King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London, Southampton, and York — are taking part in the pilot programme that would allow Chinese students to study for British degrees online without falling foul of the communist nation’s internet censorship that blocks certain websites.

Run by JISC, which provides digital services for British universities, the system sets up a connection between the institution and the student in China via the Chinese internet company Alibaba Cloud, which is a subsidiary of the Alibaba Group headed by Jack Ma, one of the wealthiest men in the world.

The system works by only allowing access to “resources that are controlled and specified” by the university. The resources need to be on the “security ‘allow’ list”, according to JISC, meaning that it would have to be approved by Beijing.

Universities UK, an advocacy body that speaks on behalf of British higher education institutions, has claimed that it does not endorse censorship. It said it is “not aware of any instances when course content has been altered” in order for it to become accessible in China, the BBC reports. However, that does not guarantee that academics or institutions will not be considering China’s censorship laws when setting reading lists or topics in future.

British universities are keen to accommodate the requirements of the Chinese Communist Party, as Chinese students — who pay high overseas tuition fees — account for almost a quarter of the UK’s international student body. If successful, the programme could be rolled out to universities across the country.

Matthew Henderson from the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society told The Telegraph on Thursday: “This is censorship by Britain of what students get to read.”

Member of the China Research Group, which opposes Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G, Neil O’Brien’Brien MP said: “This is the latest sign of the way UK universities are being changed by their dependence on Chinese students. The government needs to start collecting data on Chinese firms investments into our universities and be clear about the values we won’t compromise.”

This “pre-emptive self-censorship” is what Professor Kerry Brown, of Kings College London, warned of in a recent paper published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

Professor Brown has said that China has grown more “assertive” about attacking its critics, and at the same time, universities have become more fearful of offending China.

He wrote: “Offending China was never difficult. In the era of current President and Communist Party head Xi Jinping, it has become extremely easy, and the Chinese Government has not been coy in expressing this for everyone who wants to hear it.

“The assumption that this sort of environment must necessarily impact on the way people write and deal with China in some way, usually problematic, has strengthened.”

The reports come after the Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming warned off the UK from ‘interfering’ in domestic matters when the British government extended residency rights to three million Hong Kongers after Communist China imposed further restrictions on the former British colony.

On the UK’s reported plans to pull the CCP-controlled Huawei out of its telecommunications networks, Liu told reporters on Monday: “We want to be your friend. We want to be your partner. But if you want to make China a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences.”


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