Universities for Sale

China's Opportunity in a Time of Need

David Randall

  • Article
  • March 26, 2020

The higher education establishment will use the coronavirus emergency to double down on their dependence on China. This is precisely the wrong response.

Of course, everybody in the establishment takes the coronavirus emergency as a reason to push for what they already wanted. Higher education’s spokesmen want colleges and universities to keep on doing what they’ve already done—and to have the federal government pick up the tab. But neither the federal government nor the states have pockets deep up enough to answer every call for help—and with a depression suddenly looming, a great many calls for help are rising up. The universities will have to look elsewhere for money.

They already get a great deal of money from China.

Chinese students provide about 9% of tuition fees at American universities. China funds Confucius Institutes to teach Chinese language and culture on American campuses—and, according to broad report, to house the government minders who keep an eye on the Chinese students. American universities depend upon China to permit them to open profitable branch campuses in China itself. American professors get money directly from China via the Thousand Talents program—and give a return via technology transfers, for which a growing number are being brought up on charges by the Department of Justice.

The argument that China’s influence was benign was always weak. China, which holds Tibet and Xinjiang in captivity, which bankrolls trillion-dollar industrial espionage against the United States, which has been building an unparalleled digital surveillance state over its citizens, has never been a trustworthy partner. Now, as we suffer from a coronavirus pandemic primarily caused by the Chinese government’s cover-up, incompetence, and bullying threats used to delay until too late an effective quarantine of China, the argument that we should regard China as anything but a hostile power is in tatters.

Before the coronavirus hit, an increasing number of legislators were already introducing bills to impose greater transparency on American universities about the funding they receive from China. More than one fifth of Confucius Institutes have closed in the last three years, as American universities, unwillingly, have responded to public sentiment.

But what will the universities do now, faced with shrinking revenue, or even bankruptcy?

More of the same. In Australia, “universities are offering Chinese students stranded in their homeland travel money and discounted tuition and the largest campus delayed the start of the academic year, trying to keep their lucrative enrollments amid a viral outbreak.” In America, universities are already solicitous of Chinese students: “institutions are offering special counseling services and, in some cases, hotlines to report instances of discrimination.” While our colleges and universities haven’t yet had time to announce new policies, we may expect American colleges and universities to open their doors wide to Chinese students, Chinese money, and Chinese influence. At best, they will use China as a tool to blackmail state and federal legislators: Give us money, or we’ll have to take it from China.

China is also about to be facing financial hard times, but we can trust them to recognize a bargain when they see it. Our colleges are universities are desperate and unprincipled, and they will sell their virtue cheap.

Congress will almost certainly extend some targeted bailout to higher education. This bailout should include conditions designed to minimize Chinese influence on our colleges and universities. Such conditions should include requirements that no bailout recipient host a Confucius Institute or employ a professor who has received money from the Thousand Talents program. The Federal government might also consider measures such as limiting bailout eligibility to colleges and universities that receive no more than 20% of their tuition revenues from international students, and no more than 5% of their tuition revenues from students from any one foreign country.

Our colleges and universities have no scruples to keep them independent of China. Well-designed laws, however, may limit their willingness to sell themselves to the People’s Republic.

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

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