Chancellor Patten noted Oxford’s extensive involvement with the Chinese government: “We have quite a few Chinese benefactors. Now we have a huge number of Chinese alumni because we have got over 1,300 Chinese postgraduate and undergraduate students at Oxford - more than most universities - and about 240 academic staff. This is a subject that we are really live to.” Patten hinted that universities would be under greater financial pressure to accept foreign donations post-Brexit. He also highlighted the importance of donor transparency in countering such influence. Patten described Confucius Institutes, Chinese government-funded cultural institutes attached to foreign universities, as “an offshoot of the propaganda department of the Communist party.” He said: “If the Confucius Institute is working on a university campus as a contributor to Chinese language instruction, to understanding about the spectacular Chinese civilisation, that is fine. If it is trying to shape the curriculum, or shape students’ attitudes to Tibet, or Xinjiang, or free speech, or other issues like that, it is not acceptable.”As it happens, I can tell you there is a specific admin department in Oxford that monitors this kind of stuff very carefully, China top of their list: they are determined not to allow a re-run of the notorious scandal of Gaddafi money buying influence at the LSE. All very well for Oxford, you may say: they can afford to be choosier than most**.
Yes, there are many who find it hard to turn away cash from, well, almost anywhere. You don't need to google very hard to find reams of stuff on how New Zealand has been bought and sold by Beijing; and how concerned the Australians are about the activities of their biggest 'trading partner'.
Confucius Institutes are springing up all over. As well as being a neat echo of (e.g.) the Goethe Institut network - with all the cachet the Chinese sage carries worldwide - the name has political overtones in China itself. During Mao's Cultural Revolution, Confucius became a dirty word. His subsequent rehabilitation was symbolic of the Deng regime that eventually followed and was the bedrock of the China we face today.
So what's the party line now?
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy told Cherwell that the Confucius Institute “is a joint venture between a Chinese university and a foreign host university upon the latter’s application. The Chinese university respects the host’s right to make their decision in running the Institute and never interferes in academic freedom. “The Confucius Institute is strictly for public good, focusing on mutual exchange and providing people with an opportunity to learn the Chinese language and culture, to strengthen educational and cultural cooperation, and to build friendships. The Institute has never participated in any activities in the host country that are political or religious in nature, and will not do so in the future.”Yeah, right. Keep googling re NZ etc for other views on that.
** Some would raise an eyebrow at the £££ Oxford accepted from 'Len' Blavatnik - but then again, he's Sir Len, isn't he ...?