Australia’s most prestigious universities say their research with China and other global powers is all in the national interest, as they get set to face a major inquiry into foreign interference.
The Australian revealed on Monday the Morrison government will call a parliamentary review into interference in Australian universities and how Beijing has recruited academics to a secretive program that paid lucrative salaries and allowed research to be patented in China.
The Group of Eight — representing institutions like the University of Sydney and University of Melbourne — say their international research is already subject to at least seven different pieces of commonwealth law.
The review into foreign interference is the latest source of tension between Scott Morrison and the sandstone universities, who have spoken up against his push to scrutinise and veto university deals with foreign powers, and his proposed overhaul of higher education funding.
Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said her universities looked forward to appearing before the inquiry into foreign interference to defend their research partnerships.
“International collaboration is the lifeblood of the research breakthroughs and innovation which will underpin our economic recovery — whether that be our joint research with the US on hypersonics, robotics and artificial intelligence, our research with Saudi Arabia to fight superbugs or with China on the first genome sequence of the COVID virus,” she said.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry was launched after The Australian’s revelations last week that the Chinese government was actively recruiting scientists to take part in a secretive program that required intellectual property to be patented in China.
An investigation by The Australian named 30 Australian academics who had participated in the Thousand Talents plan, or another similar Chinese government recruitment program.
The latest inquiry into the university sector comes as the government’s radical overhaul of student fees is set to face parliament on Tuesday.
Education Minister Dan Tehan is resisting attempts to send his reforms — which will see the cost of law and humanities units increase by 113 per cent, and slash the price of “post-pandemic job creator” subjects like science and maths — off to a senate inquiry.