UK university running course in conjunction with Chinese institution deemed threat to US security

·4 min read
Queen Mary, University of London - Heathcliff O'Malley/Heathcliff O'Malley
Queen Mary, University of London - Heathcliff O'Malley/Heathcliff O'Malley

One of the UK’s leading universities is running degree courses that includes military training for Chinese scientists at an institution deemed a threat to US national security.

The undergraduate courses, conducted both in London and in the historic city of Xi’an in north west China, offer compulsory modules on military training and military theory and others on scoialist ideology and the thoughts of Chairman Mao.

Queen Mary University, part of the University of London, runs the course in conjunction with Northwestern Polytechnic University (NWPU) in China, for hundreds of students each year.

NWPU, according to US authorities, has been involved in the “development of unmanned aerial vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles and missile proliferation projects”.

Since 2001, the US Department of Commerce (DOC) has designated NWPU on its Entity List for “national security reasons”.

US universities and companies are prevented from sharing certain technological information with institutions on the entity list.

Queen Mary University runs two undergraduate, four-year courses - both in materials science and engineering - as well as a three-year masters programme with the second year spent in London.

The programmes only admit Chinese students and the admission process is controlled by NWPU. About 250 students are accepted each year for the undergraduate programme.

Opponents of the Chinese regime said it was “plainly brazen” for the London university to have struck up a commercial partnership with NWPU and branded it an “outrage” that students on the course were compelled to take modules on military theory and communist ideology.

The education plan for the degrees are set out online on Queen Mary’s website, written in both Chinese and English.

Queen Mary says it provides “elite education and professional training” for students on the course, which it says is approved by the Ministry of Education of China.

Course provides 'socialist core values'

The education plan includes a detailed explanation of the “ideological education” required as part of the course.

It states that the “ideological and political work” should “guide students to establish socialist core values and patriotism while cultivating solid professional knowledge”.

Compulsory modules include not only English language and maths as well as material science courses but also two separate modules of military theory and military training, which are worth two credits each.

A compulsory course on the thoughts of Mao Ze Dong, the Chinese communist revolutionary who ruled China from 1949 until his death in 1976, is worth five credits.

NWPU is one of seven universities in China which collaborate closely with the country’s People’s Liberation Army under the umbrella title of “Seven Sons of National Defence”.

In 2020, Donald Trump threatened to ban Chinese graduate students from any of the seven universities, including NWPU, from entering the US.

In September, a Chinese businessman was sentenced to two years in jail after admitting illegally exporting marine technology with uses in anti-submarine warfare from the US for the benefit of NWPU.

'Plainly brazen collaboration'

The US department of Justice described NWPU in a statement as “a Chinese military university that is heavily involved in military research and works closely with the People’s Liberation Army on the advancement of its military capabilities”.

It said: “NWPU has been involved in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles and missile proliferation projects. Since 2001, the US Department of Commerce has designated NWPU on its Entity List for national security reasons.”

In criticism of the deal Isabel Sawkins, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign affairs think tank in London, said: “This is a plainly brazen collaboration for a UK university to enter into.

“It's one thing for a university to risk inadvertently sharing technology with very high-risk foreign institutions but to mandate that pupils studying for material sciences degrees take modules on Communist Ideology and Military Theory is an outrage that administrators must have been aware of.

“It is shocking that Queen Mary, which is obligated to promote academic freedom, allowed this to happen and it must now urgently investigate this matter.”

All courses subject to 'rigorous procedures'

A Queen Mary University of London spokesperson said: “We are proud of our transnational educational partnership with Northwestern Polytechnical University, which is part of our wider international partnership programme across the globe.

“All Queen Mary's partnership agreements are constructed in full alignment with UK government legislation and subject to rigorous procedures regarding security, ethics and other relevant policies. Our partnership with NPU is no exception.”

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