The Corner

Education

The China Problem for American Higher Ed

U.S. and Chinese flags outside the building of an American company in Beijing, China, January 21, 2021. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

The Chinese regime is aggressive and domineering. It uses every tactic to increase its influence in the world.

And that poses challenges for our colleges and universities. So argues Nicholas Romanow in today’s Martin Center article. 

He writes, “The college campus has become a battleground between the United States and China. Donations, research funding, and international students give colleges a much-needed financial and enrollment boost, but the connection to the Chinese government can also threaten academic freedom and, on some occasions, national security.”

No doubt the best-known aspect of Chinese influence in American higher education are the Confucius Institutes, funded by the Chinese government and evidently meant as means for getting its spin on events into the minds of students. While they are of some value in the language training they provide, they are also inimical to academic freedom.

Romanow suggests a course of action of American universities. “When feasible, universities should develop their own Asian studies and languages programs and avoid relying on Confucius Institutes as their only resource for Chinese language and culture. Universities are platforms of open debate and should be able to accommodate a plurality of viewpoints. Ultimately, if universities decide to shutter Confucius Institutes, it should be based on the quality of their academic product, which China expert Mary Gallagher argues is substandard because of the rigid operating structure of these programs.”

When navigating the problems caused by malign Chinese influence, Romanow advises our higher-education leaders to remember that their main concern must be for their students and not the funds they might lose if they don’t go along with the goals of the Chinese state.

Romanow sums up: “Facing this China challenge, universities need to be nimble, creative, and principled. Cultivating long-term expertise in China is imperative for universities to train future leaders in diplomacy, business, and national security. Universities must maintain their openness while being cognizant of the unique challenge of Chinese influence.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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