Credit: Gnesener1900 via Wikimedia Commons

St Antony’s accepts £130,000 in deal with Tsinghua University

St Antony’s College accepted £130,000 from China’s Tsinghua University as part of a five-year deal to admit two postdoctoral fellows per academic year starting in 2020. 

Payment for the collaborative agreement was disclosed to The Times under the Freedom of Information Act. The agreement itself was signed between Tsinghua University’s Institute of International and Area Studies and St Antony’s College.

Applicants must specialise in area studies and have been awarded a PhD from Tsinghua University within 3 years of applying. St Antony’s College is recognised for its international student body and houses seven regional study centres focused on different regions of the world. 

According to emails shared with The Times, Tsinghua University does not directly fund fellows. Rather, it routes payments to the fellows’ bank accounts through St Antony’s. 

The emails suggest this is done so that Tsinghua receives “kudos” and the “prestige of having its scholars receive money from the world’s most respected seat of learning”.

Tsinghua University is regarded as one of China’s top universities. In the Times Higher Education’s 2024 World University Rankings, Tsinghua ranked 12th, with Oxford in first place. 

Tanya Baldwin, St Antony’s bursar, told The Times that the Tsinghua fellowship has received the same treatment as all other fellowships. Only one scholar was paid by Tsinghua in 2020, but all further payments were channelled through the college.

Other universities in the UK have been reported to have associations with Tsinghua. However, aside from St Antony’s, the University has “no formal link with Tsinghua”.

Financial agreements with foreign institutions have raised security concerns for the UK government. The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, responsible for overseeing the UK Intelligence Community, released a report last year claiming UK universities “provide a rich feeding ground for China to achieve political influence in the UK and economic advantage over the UK”.

Students in the UK from China and Hong Kong have reportedly faced restrictions on lawful free speech through Chinese surveillance efforts, including incidents of spying and harassment. Funding agreements with institutions from students’ home countries may impact their safety and freedoms while studying in the UK.

The Office for Students, an independent body that regulates the higher education sector in England, launched a consultation on new guidance about freedom of speech. Its new guidance aims to bring greater scrutiny to the connections between UK universities and foreign institutions that financially support students.

Image Credit: Gnesener1900 via Wikimedia Commons

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