Several Swedish universities reportedly discovered that over two dozen doctoral students from China were made to sign an agreement pledging their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before arriving in Sweden.
Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published a report last week detailing the documents it obtained.
The news outlet stated that over 30 students had signed letters before traveling to Sweden through the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) run by China’s Ministry of Education, which supports international academic exchange with other universities globally.
Besides pledging loyalty to the Chinese government, the students must also “serve the interests of the regime” and “never participate in ‘activities’ that go against the will of the authorities," according to Dagens Nyheter.
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The news outlet alleged that the students’ families might also be tied into the agreement, stating that if the students go against the content of the documents or if their education gets "interrupted," their families residing in China could find themselves in “financial debt to the state.”
Additionally, family members were purportedly made to sign a contract making them liable for damages in case their relatives studying in Sweden do not complete their education.
A line in the document also stated that a student’s "guarantor, who is usually a close relative," is not allowed to leave China for a long duration of time while the student is studying abroad.
“This is exactly how dictatorships work, that the family is held hostage in the home country. It is unpleasant,” David Gisselsson Nord, vice dean for internationalization at Lund University’s medical department, told Dagens Nyheter.
The issue was allegedly first brought to light after a Chinese student at Lund University was advised not to continue his studies due to his poor academic performance.
“The student then became worried and said the decision would mean big problems for his family in China,” Nord said. “We were surprised, because we had never heard of such a contract.”
After the incident, Lund University asked another student at the school for their documents and found that they also had the same letters from the Chinese government with them.
Reports about the letters started to spread, and other Swedish universities began checking their students’ documents soon after. Some of the universities named in the report include Karolinska Institute, Uppsala University and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
“There are uncertainties, for example what is meant by going against the interests of the Chinese state,” said Bob Harris, vice chancellor for research studies at the Karolinska Institute, one of Sweden’s top universities that regularly admits over 30 Chinese students through the CSC.
“For the time being we have decided not to admit more research students via CSC,” he stated.
Uppsala University and Lund University said they will be ending any future collaborations with the CSC following the discovery of the documents.
Meanwhile, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is still reportedly accepting applications from Chinese students through the CSC.
In a statement, Stefan Östlund, the vice rector for international relations at the Royal Institute of Technology, said they found “no evidence” within their university that pointed to the existence of the letters.
“We are in talks with Karolinska and CSC about these letters, but in all the years that we have had CSC students, we have never heard or received signals that students would have been harmed because of these letters,” Östlund told Dagens Nyheter.
While admitting that he cannot be “100% sure,” Östlund said that Chinese-speaking university staff members have “never picked up signals” related to the issue.
Östlund believes that the line about students acting in the interest of the state means that they should “behave and do well when they are abroad,” as other scholarship programs issue similar letters. He added that "all countries" only want their students studying abroad to properly represent them.
The Royal Institute of Technology has reportedly acknowledged the recent report and has already started a discussion with the CSC.