Dutch universities have expressed growing concerns about the Chinese government’s funding of PhD students in the Netherlands.
Some 2,000 postgraduate students from China are sponsored by the China Scholarship Council (CSC), which covers the full cost of their tuition.
Despite the financial benefits of the deal, universities have become reluctant to take on new students because of concerns about information security and human rights.
Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), which currently has 242 CSC-funded students, is refusing to take candidates linked with the Seven Sons of National Defence, an association of seven universities with connections to the Chinese army.
Maastricht university, with 182 CSC students, has imposed similar restrictions, Trouw reported on Tuesday.
MPs are also concerned about the strict conditions attached to the bursaries. Students are required to swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, pledge to return to China within two years of completing their studies and must report to the Chinese embassy in the country where they study.
Risk of espionage
Universities also worry that technical expertise acquired in the Netherlands could be repurposed for military use or to develop software that serves China’s autocratic regime, for example by controlling social media use.
Utrecht university has cited the low wages paid to PhD students of €1,350 per month, well below the Dutch minimum wage, as another reason why it has stopped interviewing postgraduate applicants from China.
TU Delft’s campus newspaper Delta warned two years ago that there were ‘significant risks’ to co-operating with researchers from Chinese military academies such as the National University of Defence Technology.
‘Experts … warn of espionage, undesirable knowledge transfer and the new close links that Chinese universities have with the defence industry,’ it said.
Education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has announced an investigation into the implications of students being sponsored by the Chinese state. ‘I share the concerns of universities about these scholarship programmes,’ he said on Twitter.
Ik deel de zorgen van universiteiten rond dergelijke beursprogramma’s. Beursprogramma’s gericht inzetten om zo hoogwaardige kennis en technologie (voor de staat) in handen te krijgen is onwenselijk. Ik ga dit type beurzen daarom nader onderzoeken. https://t.co/fBGbrevHui
— Robbert Dijkgraaf (@RHDijkgraaf) May 2, 2023
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