University College Cork is considering deepening its relationship with a controversial university in China that the Beijing regime uses to educate students from ethnic minorities, many of whom go on to become Chinese Communist Party officials or cadres.
The intended move raises "huge ethical questions", according to Alexander Dukalskis, an associate professor in UCD's school of politics and international relations, and China fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC.
Minzu University, formerly known as the Central Nationalities University, has a special focus on ethnic studies, and a large proportion of its students are from non-Han Chinese backgrounds.
These include Uighurs from Xinjiang, where the Chinese Communist Party regime has established a network of controversial camps, as well as students from Tibet, where the regime has also been accused of mass human rights abuses.
UCC already has a joint programme relationship with Minzu, whereby students can study for an environmental science degree, with staff from the Cork university teaching students in Minzu, and students from the Chinese university coming to Cork for their third year of study.
The Cork university has now set up a steering committee to look at making a “joint college” application to the Chinese ministry of education in relation to Minzu.
The committee – with which the interim president of UCC, Prof John O’Halloran, is involved – is proposing to provide degrees in science, engineering, food science and law on the new Minzu campus in Hainan province, The Irish Times understands.
“Co-operation with Minzu University – designed to focus on ethnic minority education – raises huge ethical questions as China’s ethnic minority policy has become one of the most oppressive in the world in recent years,” said Mr Dukalskis.
“I think it’s difficult to justify deepening co-operation with a university focusing on ethnic issues overseen by the very same party that is simultaneously putting ethnic minorities in re-education camps in vast numbers in Xinjiang or systematically suppressing Tibetan culture.
"Indeed, the world's most famous jailed scholar, Ilham Tohti, was a professor there, which is a stark reminder of the prevailing political controls."
Jailed for life
Tohti, a Uighur economist who lectured in Minzu, was jailed for life in 2014 by the Chinese regime, who accused him of “separatism” and fanning ethnic tensions. He is widely considered to be a moderate on the Xinjiang question.
Seven of his students, six of whom were Uighurs and one of whom was from the Yi ethnic minority, were given sentences of between three and eight years.
Last year Mr Tohti’s daughter, Jewher, when collecting the EU’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, said she did not know if her father was still alive.
“UCC currently has a joint programme with Minzu University of China,” a spokesman for the Cork university said. “An application for an additional joint programme in law (LLM) has been submitted to the Chinese ministry of education. Universities with three or more joint programmes can create a ‘a joint college’, which is a common academic feature of transnational education involving China.
“Discussions with Minzu University of China do not include the development of a physical campus by UCC, and any agreement will be subject to university approval.”
UCD and Maynooth also have joint college arrangements with other Chinese universities.
Earlier this year Minzu University sent 10,000 face masks to Cork, against the backdrop of a shortage of personal protective equipment in Europe at that time.