A report by a think-tank has revealed that the University of Edinburgh received more than £12 million in funding from Chinese organisations with ties to the country’s military and defence industry. The report warns that such academic collaborations pose a significant risk to the UK’s national security and interests.
Huawei Technologies among the top funders
According to the report by Civitas, a London-based think-tank, the University of Edinburgh received between £12.7 million and £13.8 million from five Chinese entities between 2017 and 2022. The majority of the funding, 96 per cent, came from companies with links to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s armed forces.
The largest funder was Huawei Technologies, the controversial tech giant that was banned from Britain’s 5G networks over security concerns. The company provided at least £10 million to the university for various research projects, including artificial intelligence, data science, and quantum technologies.
The report also identified four other Chinese funders with military affiliations: China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). These entities are involved in developing and producing weapons, missiles, submarines, satellites, and nuclear reactors for the PLA.
A third of all Chinese funding to UK universities had military links
The report, titled “The Strategic Dependence of UK Universities on China – and where should they turn next?”, analysed the data obtained from Freedom of Information requests to 59 UK universities. It found that the total amount of Chinese funding to UK higher education institutions ranged from £122 million to £156 million between 2017 and 2022.
Out of this amount, between £19.9 million and £30.5 million came from Chinese sources that were subjected to US sanctions at the time of funding. These sanctions were imposed by the US government to prevent the transfer of sensitive technologies and information to the Chinese military and its affiliates.
The report also revealed that around a third of all Chinese funding to UK universities had links to the Chinese military. This includes four of the so-called Seven Sons of National Defence, a group of top-ranked universities controlled by the Chinese industry ministry and producing most technical graduates that work for the state defence industry.
Experts warn of the dangers of academic collaboration with China
The authors of the report argued that the academic partnerships with Chinese military-linked organisations “are not in the interests of Scotland, Scottish students, or the United Kingdom’s national security”. They called for the UK’s sanctions list to be aligned with that of the US and for the end of academic collaborations with universities in China’s Seven Sons of National Defence alliance.
The report also urged the UK government and universities to diversify their sources of funding and to seek more cooperation with democratic allies, such as the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and India.
Several China experts who reviewed the list of projects agreed that the risk of research results being redirected to defence applications in China was significant. They also expressed surprise that one of the projects involving a Chinese military-linked university started in March 2021, under the new Horizon Europe programme.
This contradicts the statement made by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in March, who said that scientific and technology cooperation with China should continue, but in a way that does not benefit its military and intelligence capabilities.
The University of Edinburgh declined to comment on the report, but said that it follows the UK government’s guidance on research collaborations with China.
1 University of Edinburgh took £12m funding from Chinese organisations with military links, including money from Huawei Technologies (scotsman.com)
2 Despite risks, EU continues to fund research with Chinese military-linked universities | Science|Business
3 China Scholarships Council/University of Edinburgh Scholarships