It can be revealed that the controversial Chinese Ministry of Education inspects the Confucius Institute in UCD. The news comes as a new €7 million Confucius Centre is currently being constructed for the Institute beside the Engineering building in UCD.
The first inspection of the Institute by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) government was in 2012, when Xiaochun Yang the International Chief of the Chinese Ministry of Education, led a group to examine the Institute’s work in UCD.
The Confucius Institute in UCD is one of hundreds of institutes set up by the Chinese government in universities around the world. The objective of the Institutes are to promote Chinese culture, and they primarily teach Mandarin language or Chinese business classes.
Alexander Dukalskis, a politics & international relations lecturer in UCD who specializes in Asian and authoritarian political regimes, said he would not comment on the specific CI (Confucius Institute) in UCD. But he did outline however “that there are many controversies and concerns about CIs. Generally those revolve around academic freedom and administrative transparency”.
Hanban is the sector of the Chinese Education Ministry responsible for the PRC’s Confucius Institutes around the world. In 2013 they sent another delegation to visit the UCD institute, led by Prof. Huiling Yang, vice president of Renmin University of China.
UCD college President Andrew Deeks has also travelled to the Hanban headquarters in China to meet representatives from the Chinese education ministry and government officials. The new Confucius Centre will be completed by 2017 and will cost €7 million to build, it is the first of its kind to receive direct funding from the Chinese government.
Documentation presented by the university President to the UCD Governing Authority in 2013 obtained by the Tribune, outlines that even the architectural design and location of the new Confucius Centre had to be approved of by Hanban in China.
Key members of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Politburo Standing Committee have also visited UCD in recent years. Liu Yunshan attended a ceremony held by the Confucius Institute in 2014, and in 2012 Xi Jinping also visited UCD. Both Yunshan and Jingping are key figures in the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. The Politburo of the CCP is the main decision making body of the government in China. But serious concerns surround the it, and Chinese government’s role in political censorship and the suppression of freedom of speech and assembly in China.
In 2006 the Confucius Institute was set up in UCD, with Prof Liming Wang appointed as the director. Prof Wang has also previously working for the Chinese government, in the Ministry of Commerce for six years. In 2010, Prof Wang’s wife Dr Lan Li was appointed deputy director of the CI in UCD. The CI in UCD confirmed that Prof Wang and Dr Lan Li were married, “that information is not untrue” a spokesperson for the Confucius Institute said. “You are of course free to write want you want. I would just ask how important is that information” they continued to say.
‘UCD Yanti’ is another controversial partnership project between UCD and China. The Yanti project was a plan to build a €300 million UCD campus in Northern China.
The proposed massive 300 acre UCD international campus would be set up in partnership with the Chinese Agricultural University, and was envisaged as having a student body of 10,000 in seven to ten years.
The project was championed under previous UCD President Hugh Brady in 2013. The Memorandum of Understanding signing initially by UCD, the Chinese Agricultural University, and the Yanti local government, showed the college had agreed to award graduates of the college in China with UCD degrees.
Part of the negotiations between UCD and China over the Yanti projected outlined that UCD wanted a minimum of 1,000 students a year from the international college to be required to spend a year studying in Belfield. The Tribune obtained financial projections from the President’s office that reveal they had estimated the income from international fees of traveling Yanti students could be up to €20 million per annum.
It seems this financial angle was a key motivating factor in UCD creating this international campus in China. UCD charges international students between €17,000 – €25,000 a year, and so they provide the college with significant additional revenue. Their partnerships with China were than a key strategy to grow UCD’s global presence and draw international students to Belfield.
The President’s report on UCD Yanti to the college’s Governing Authority in December 2013 stated that “importantly for UCD, up to 50% of undergraduate students and almost all masters students would spend at least one year as full international fee-paying students in Dublin.”
However, the project fell apart and has not been mentioned in any official published UCD reports or documentation since 2013. As part of the agreement it is believed UCD would have been responsible for staffing the Yanti campus, and the considerable cost of this led to the breakup of the project.
Alongside the UCD Yanti campus, Nova UCD (an institute which develop research and innovation projects in Belfield) was to set up a mirror ‘Nova Shandong’ within the Yanti campus. When asked what happened to the Yanti project a spokesperson from Nova UCD replied there was “no updates” available on the project.
A spokesperson from UCD claimed that “following a strategic planning process, the university changed its strategic priorities and took the decision not to proceed with an earlier plan to establish a joint university on the Yantai campus.” The university spokesperson continued to say that “instead the university is focused on a number of global centres in Asia, the US and India. These centers will enable the university to pursue its new global engagement strategy … In China, the university is focusing its efforts on Beijing Dublin International College which has a current enrolment of over 700 students.”
In total over 5,600 students are studying in these overseas partnership programmes, and are awarded UCD degrees. These programmes include UCD centres in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Similar to the motivations behind the Yanti project, UCD promotes increasing its international presence with these colleges in an effort to then draw international students to Belfield.
University reports on one such programme, the Beijing-Dublin International College, ran jointly by UCD and Beijing University of Technology show international student fees are again at the heart of UCD’s motivation. Reports put to the university’s Governing Authority in 2013 outline how “UCD will stand to benefit financially from BDIC students coming to Dublin for the final year of their undergraduate programme or as masters students.”
UCD Computer Science Partnership with China Shut Down
But one of these international partnerships was recently shut down after an independent quality control investigation. UCD ran a joint Computer science course with Fudan University (in Shanghai, China) until 2014. The quality review into the programme found UCD was not fulfilling its requirements as was agreed, and was sending junior postdoc candidates instead of senior academic staff to lecturer in China. Issues with a lack of timely and adequate funding from UCD for the project also contributed to the report recommending the programme be discontinued.
UCD’s international focus and its relationship with China has grown considerably in recent years. Freedom of Information requests on the number of staff employed by UCD show the Centre for Chinese Studies (including the Confucius Institute) employ 14 full time staff as of 2014. The International Office in UCD has also received significant increases in funding from UCD of late. The Tribune’s FOI on staff figures showed 40 members of staff were employed in the international office in 2015, up from 26 employees in 2013, and 14 in 2010.
Jack Power | Editor