“We also take note of the recommendation regarding Confucius Institutes and will continue to liaise with our members on the implications of this.”
At least 12 universities – including the universities of Sydney and Melbourne – host Confucius Institutes, which mainly teach non-degree courses on Chinese culture and language and sometimes hold public events on political, social and economic issues. As relations between Australia and China have soured, the institutes have come under increasing scrutiny from the federal government over fears they are operating as a plank of the Chinese Communist Party propaganda effort. RMIT University pledged last year to close its institute.
The committee, chaired by Liberal Senator James Paterson, who has been highly critical of the institutes’ operation, noted that it had decided not to recommend the centers be closed and instead recommended measures to ‘increase transparency’ around the centers . But the report also included a statement supporting the Foreign Secretary’s action to force the closure of the centers by using “veto power” to cancel Confucius Institute contracts between Australian and Chinese universities.
Several universities have renegotiated contracts with their Chinese partners after The Sydney Morning Herald and age revealed in 2019 that some had agreed to share or cede decision-making power over teaching content to the headquarters of the Confucius Institute in Beijing. The University of Sydney already discloses its contract with Fudan University for its institute on its website.
Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill welcomed the report’s findings, saying, “further efforts to ensure universities have clear policies in place to counter state-sponsored harassment and intimidation and the resulting self-censorship are long overdue”.