China’s beleaguered Confucius Institutes have come under renewed pressure from British MPs who are calling for new laws to ban them from the UK.
Back bench policymakers from the main political parties tabled an amendment to the Higher Education Bill on Wednesday that would outlaw the Chinese regime-funded institutes if they are seen to curb freedom of speech and academic studies.
The amendment to the bill—which is due before the Commons next week—also demands universities report to the government the creation of new institutes and to allow proper scrutiny of their operations, including full disclosure of funding, spending and “activities.”
MPs also want the law to direct universities to provide alternatives to Chinese state-funded cultural learning centres.
Confucius Institutes have in recent years come under immense scrutiny and heavy criticism for undermining academic standards and undue influence in several Western countries, including in the United States, Germany, and Australia.
Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat is one of the MPs backing the amendment.
“We have seen the pressure that the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] puts on those who speak out. We should not be reliant on an authoritarian state to teach its language in Britain,” he told Politico.
The amendment was submitted by Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, who said the CCP “strangles freedom of speech at home yet uses British universities to rewrite the realities of its historic and contemporary actions.”
Labour’s Chris Bryant and the Liberal Democrats’ Alistair Carmichael have joined Conservative China hawks—including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green—in backing the amendment.
Such cross-party support is likely to see the amendment selected for a vote by the Commons speaker when the Higher Education Bill comes before the House of Commons on its next stage to becoming law.
A Department for Education spokesperson told The Epoch Times the amendment will be considered alongside the progression of the Bill.
“We will not accept collaborations which compromise our national security, and the UK government continues to support the sector to identify and mitigate the risks of interference,” the spokesperson said.
“The government had already tabled an amendment that addresses the legitimate concerns over the influence of foreign money in higher education, without stifling the ability of our world-class universities to work with global partners.
“We need to ensure there are no negative implications for positive international collaboration projects such as the Turing Scheme.” The Turing Scheme is global programme for studying, working, and living abroad, according to its website.
There are currently 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK, all fully or part-funded by the CCP.
A Freedom of Information request made by The Spectator last April revealed British universities have accepted £24 million ($30 million) from China.
Confucius Institutes run educational and cultural programs. They were originally funded and arranged by an entity affiliated to the Chinese Ministry of Education. After accusations of overseas propaganda and undue influence, they were rebranded in 2020 as the Centre for Language Education and Cooperation.
Confucius Institutes were previously described as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up” by senior CCP official Li Changchun.
The Epoch Times has contacted Southampton University’s Confucius Institute for comment about the proposed amendment.