Australia plans to tackle foreign influence at nation's universities

Science | AAAS | 8/28/2019 | Staff
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In response to growing concerns in Australia about foreign influence at universities, cyberspying, and a perceived erosion of freedom of speech on campuses, the country's education minister today announced that a new task force will develop "best-practice guidelines for dealing with foreign interference."

The decision grew out of recent meetings between university and government representatives, Minister for Education Dan Tehan said in a speech at the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra this afternoon. "Everybody wants a considered, methodical approach to deal with this issue," he said, "one that strikes a balance between our national interest and giving universities the freedom to pursue research and collaboration. We must get the balance right."

Tehan - China - Ministry - Transcript - News

Tehan did not mention China, according to a ministry transcript of the news conference. But it is clear the country is the primary concern. "There've been a series of mini-scandals throughout the tertiary education sector that show there is a big problem of foreign interference in universities coming from China, and the government has now realized that the universities themselves are not going to act," says Clive Hamilton, an ethicist at Charles Sturt University in Canberra who has been outspoken in warning about threats to Australia's universities.

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Chinese influence is a sensitive issue, however. On Monday, before the guideline plans had been announced, University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence said on a radio program that the debate over Chinese connections has become "slightly hysterical.”

University - Foreign - Interference - Taskforce - Half

The University Foreign Interference Taskforce will draw half of its participants from the nation's universities; Department of Education officials and government security experts will make up the other half. The taskforce will have four working groups focusing on cybersecurity, intellectual property, foreign collaborations, and communications to raise awareness of security issues. It...
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