Commentary: How the Chinese government is buying its way into UK universities

Freddie Hayward
New Statesman

Excerpt: When Professor Peter Nolan warned against debating the plight of the Uighurs or the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong at Jesus College, Cambridge, he exposed the impact of China’s growing influence in UK universities. In comments reported by the Sunday Times in early June, Nolan, the director of the college's China Centre, advised colleagues to avoid contentious issues on China’s human rights record lest they be seen as a “campaigning college for freedom for Hong Kong, freedom for the Uighurs.” According to the Times, Nolan’s professorship was funded by a £3.7 million donation to the university from the Chong Hua foundation, a trust allegedly controlled by the daughter of Wen Jiabao, a former Chinese prime minister. Nolan also sits on the board of China International Capital Corporation (CICC), a Chinese state-backed investment bank.  

Nolan’s case highlights the risks of the Chinese government’s rising influence in UK universities. Through financial support, the Chinese state is potentially able to mould the boundaries of debate on UK campuses – sometimes explicitly, sometimes more insidiously.