Group of Eight doubles down on China for research, THE AUSTRALIAN
By Tim Dodd, Higher Education Editor
16 October 2019
The Group of Eight universities have doubled down on their commitment to China through a new agreement with universities there to increase collaboration in cutting-edge research and create dialogue in areas that aim to steer clear of sensitive military and security issues.
About a dozen deputy vice-chancellors from Group of Eight universities will head to China on Wednesday in a delegation that will sign a memorandum of understanding with 11 top research universities there. The new agreement, two years in the making, comes as scrutiny of Australian universities’ China links grows and as a joint university-government taskforce prepares to recommend new guidelines for university collaboration with foreign powers.
Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said the MOU would boost co-operation in innovation and entrepreneurship, and build research collaboration, including establishing new research laboratories and training high-level researchers.
Ms Thomson said a new angle in the agreement was initiating discussions between policy specialists and think tanks within Group of Eight institutions and the 11 participating Chinese universities. Areas likely to be covered include economic and trade policy and other topics affecting the Asia-Pacific region. The dialogue will also include higher education itself, with forums and roundtables to share educational ideas.
“Examples include a university presidents dialogue on building world-class research universities, joint thematic research forums, and teaching and learning symposiums,” Ms Thomson said.
The Chinese institutions in the new agreement — the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Harbin Institute of Technology, Nanjing University, Zhejiang University, University of Science and Technology of China, Wuhan University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Sun Yat-sen University, South China University of Technology and Xi’an Jiaotong University — are major research universities and most already have links with the Australian research intensive universities in the Group of Eight.
Six of them are in the C9, Chinas’s elite group of universities.
The Group of Eight — comprising the universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland, Western Australia and Adelaide, as well as Monash, UNSW and the Australian National University — are heavily reliant on income from Chinese students and are strongly motivated to maintain smooth relations with China. Nearly 60,000 Chinese students were enrolled at Group of Eight universities last year and China is the source of the largest chunk of their international student fee income.
This week’s Group of Eight China trip will also include talks with major Chinese employers, arranged in conjunction with Austrade, to discuss the employment outlook and the workforce needs for graduates when they return to China.
This week the Group of Eight has also launched a new social media campaign to present a positive picture of university links with China. It includes highlighting the fact that a major Australian scientific breakthrough — the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against cervical and other cancers — was the result of decades of joint research by the University of Queensland’s Ian Frazer and Chinese virologist Zhou Jian.
While acknowledging that university research collaboration with China includes “dual use” technology that has both civil and military applications, the Group of Eight’s campaign aims to showcase other beneficial research links, including work done on climate change, drought mitigation, nutrition, marine science and healthy parenting.
Ms Thomson said the Group of Eight understood the geopolitical framework was shifting.
“We have been working closely with the federal government and Australia’s security agencies to develop guidelines that will add weight to our already strong due diligence around research collaboration,” she said.
On Tuesday, the National Tertiary Education Union called on universities to review all existing arrangements with external partners and sponsors of research, and test them for academic integrity and intellectual freedom.
“This applies as much to state-based agreements as it does with private and industry partnerships,” NTEU national president Alison Barnes said.
Without naming China, she said the NTEU was deeply concerned at allegations that research undertaken in Australia had been used to breach human rights.
“We therefore call upon all universities to undertake a rigorous ethical screening of all external partner arrangements and sponsorships, with particular regard to international human rights considerations.”