Chinese PhD students on a grant from the China Scholarship Council have to satisfy some dubious requirements. This has prompted queries from several Dutch university administrations.
According to the conditions of the national funding body the China Scholarship Council (CSC), Chinese PhD students have to endorse the Communist Party line. If any doubt exists about a candidate’s political ideology, he or she can be questioned about it. Furthermore, it’s mandatory for PhD students to return to China when their doctoral work is completed.
Good value for money
Dutch universities have been eager to welcome these fully funded doctoral students. Thanks to external funding they bring, universities find CSC doctoral students good value for money. Moreover, for every successfully defended dissertation, institutions receive a bonus of about 80,000 euros from the Dutch government.
No one ever retired early on a CSC grant. On Wednesday, Folia reported that the grant is often too meagre to pay for living expenses and that the University of Amsterdam was topping up these grants.
Nonetheless, the number of PhD students from China has grown from 100 when the CSC grant was introduced in 2007 to 800 Chinese PhD students in the Netherlands in 2019.
In May, staff at Erasmus University, where 152 CSC doctoral students are currently employed, criticised the conditions under which the grant is awarded. In an anonymous letter to the board, they expressed the criticism that the grants “are paid for by a regime that does not share the values and objectives of the university”, is “undemocratic”, and that the Communist Party “oppresses individuals and groups in society on the basis of their religion, ethnicity and political convictions”.
Last week, CSC doctoral candidates explained to Erasmus Magazine that the controversial rules can be found in every standard contract in China and are only of symbolic significance. Endorsing the rules is in that sense just a formality, but no one ever asks you about it, they said.
The board of Rotterdam’s university has announced that it will publish a new checklist for assessing grants in October.
Erasmus University is probably not the only institution that will be evaluating funding programmes more rigorously. In January, the Ministry of Education, along with the association of universities in the Netherlands UNL and other research institutions, published national guidelines for knowledge security. These contain binding agreements governing universities, universities of applied sciences and research institutions regarding funding programmes, among other things. For instance, every institution is required to map the associated risks so that “adjustments can be made when funding is only obtained from one funding body”.
People have been warning about China as a knowledge partner for some time. There were, for example, 93 PhD students who came to the Netherlands after completing a Master’s degree at a military college. They were able to gather information here about technology that could be applied by Beijing for military purposes. In other instances, researchers at Delft University of Technology unwittingly helped the Chinese army, while researchers, at a human rights centre at VU Amsterdam funded by China (and since disbanded), advocated an alternative vision of human rights.