Educational and Research Exchanges With China Under Increased Scrutiny

International students in China facing firewalls and risks . . .

Professors in Canada and other Western countries are raising concerns over the accessibility of sensitive course content by their students in China. A University of Waterloo professor noted that many sites used in university teaching, such as YouTube and Western news sites, are restricted in China. And the possibility of online class discussions and lecture materials being monitored by Chinese authorities has prompted some University of B.C. faculties to advise their members to include warnings in their course outlines that some courses may be illegal or even dangerous to access. Virtual private networks (VPNs) acquired by several Canadian universities have not alleviated concerns over potential censorship and personal security risks, and some academics are facing pressure to self-censor and avoid teaching sensitive subjects.

Students, scholars, face visa revocations and delays . . .

Meanwhile, Australian officials have revoked the visas of two Chinese scholars working in Australia for alleged national security risks. The U.S. also recently revoked the visas of more than 1,000 Chinese scholars, graduate students, and undergraduate students for alleged espionage and ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). A crowdsourced spreadsheet of some 100 affected individuals indicates that most revocations were linked to seven universities in China (and their affiliated high schools). These schools were initially founded with military support but have since had mostly nominal ties to the PLA.

Are there still benefits to academic exchange?

These developments have led to increased scrutiny over how Canada should respond to growing concerns about Canada-China academic collaboration. Before the prorogation of Parliament, the House of Commons Committee on Canada-China Relations heard testimony about technology developed by Canadian universities being used in the Chinese domestic surveillance systems. However, most Canadian academic research is already open to the public. Scholars in other countries, meanwhile, have raised concerns that bans on research collaboration put liberal values like academic freedom at risk. Less sensitive fields of research, such as those in the humanities and social sciences, could be areas where collaboration could continue to be fostered without anxieties over security.