Amidst increasing tensions from recent international security issues in relation to China, US conservatives now aim to pass a law that restricts and monitors foreign student participation in “sensitive” university research projects.
The Protect Our Universities Act of 2019, authored by Indiana Representative Jim Banks, aims to specifically restrict students with past or current citizenship in China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea from participating or even accessing such projects. Should the students need to access the projects, they would have to apply for a waiver from the US Director of National Intelligence.
This is not the first time that the US officials attempted to limit and monitor foreign students and foreign-funded education programmes. There has also been a recent uproar from US Senate urging stricter investigations of Confucius Institutes (CI).
In 2018, the US government urged Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents, fully disclosing their agenda and source of funding, in order to “increase transparency between foreign governments, universities and communities.”
The Confucius Institute is China’s government-funded international academic programmes for cultural awareness and integration. The CI builds partnerships with local schools and offers Chinese language classes and cultural shows.
Confucius Institutes intend to “meet the educational goals of the university and align with the interests/resources of its local community.”
What has alarmed US officials is China’s increasing effort to strengthen support for Confucius Institutes across the US. There are currently around 100 CIs attached to universities and around 500 affiliated with primary schools in the US.
A US Senate investigation discovered that the CI would require school administrations to sign non-disclosure contract agreements regarding the scope and extent of Chinese intervention in the funded programmes.
US Officials also believe that the non-disclosure agreements between the schools and the CI, a Chinese government funded institute, is a threat to academic freedom and intellectual property rights.
There have also been reports of censorship across US, UK, and Australian universities regarding topics and forums on Tibet, Taiwan, and uprisings in China. The universities’ agreements with CIs allegedly prohibit them from discussing such topics.
Because of these revelations, some US officials and media outlets have gone as far as to say that Confucius Institutes are “spy agencies,” promoting communist propaganda and recruiting spies for the Chinese government.