SECOND THOUGHTS

A Dutch university has canceled plans to offer degrees at its China campus

The University of Groningen has abandoned plans to offer full degrees at its newly built campus in China, according to an announcement yesterday (Jan. 29).

The university’s China branch, called the University of Groningen Yantai (UGY), was formed following a three-way agreement (pdf) signed in March 2015 by the university, Beijing’s China Agricultural University, and the Yantai city government in northeastern China at a ceremony presided over by president Xi Jinping and the Dutch king. UGY had initially planned to offer four Bachelor’s degrees and two Master’s degrees to students starting September this year. Large parts of the Yantai campus have already been developed, with the city of Yantai funding the buildings and facilities.

The University of Groningen didn’t provide a reason for canceling its plans, but in November, the school called a meeting to discuss a revised application to set up UGY. That month, the Chinese government announced that (paywall) all foreign-funded universities should have a Communist Party official sit on the board. The president of the University of Groningen’s board, Sibrand Poppema, said then that the inclusion of a party official on UGY’s board “does nothing to alter” academic freedom and independence and that the Party representative would have no ability to control academic content. Nonetheless, Poppema said that the university must “continue to ensure that self-censorship does not become an issue.”

In the latest statement announcing UGY’s decision to cancel full degrees, Poppema didn’t provide a reason for the decision, but said that there was “insufficient support within the University Council” for UGY. The university board will explore “which other forms of collaboration are possible in Yantai” as it’s no longer a choice to offer full degree programs in the Chinese campus, the statement added.

The University of Groningen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There are more than 2,000 education joint ventures (paywall) between Chinese and foreign universities in China, which first allowed such operations in 2003. Prominent among them are New York University Shanghai and Duke Kunshan University, located in a small city in Zhejiang province.

The University of Groningen’s decision comes amid a series of controversies that demonstrate Beijing’s tightening grip over academic freedom that have also affected foreign institutions. In August, Cambridge University Press pulled over 300 articles on its China site from a prestigious China journal at the request of authorities—the publisher later retracted its decision amid a public outcry over its capitulation to censorship. In September, the Chinese government barred scholars from using state funding to study at the University of California, San Diego, after the institution invited the Dalai Lama to speak at a graduation ceremony.

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