UCC to abandon joint college project with Chinese university

Cork college warned of issues arising if withdrawal seen as linked to ethical concerns

In November, 50 academics at UCC sought a report on whether Minzu University was linked to human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

In November, 50 academics at UCC sought a report on whether Minzu University was linked to human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

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University College Cork is not going ahead with a controversial project to form a “joint college” with a Chinese university that specialises in ethnic studies.

The university has not said why the project is being abandoned but, in an review commissioned by UCC, the university was warned that there could be “repercussions” if the Chinese believed the project had been withdrawn over ethical concerns.

In November, 50 academics at UCC sought a report on whether Minzu University was linked to human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang.

There has been sustained international condemnation of the Beijing government’s policy in Xinjiang where up to a million Uighur and other people from minority groups have been put in camps as part of a campaign the Chinese Communist Party has said is designed to target “extremism”.

In October, Alexander Dukalskis, an associate professor at UCD’s school of politics, said UCC’s joint college proposal with Minzu, a university that had a focus on ethnic studies, raised “huge ethical questions as China’s ethnic minority policy has become one of the most oppressive in the world in recent years”.

Connection with Minzu

The deepening of UCC’s already-existing links with Minzu was explored by a steering group chaired by the university’s interim president, Prof John O’Halloran.

Following the expressions of concern, Prof O’Halloran asked the chancellor of the National University of Ireland (NUI), Dr Maurice Manning, to review the proposed move.

In January, Dr Manning responded to Prof O’Halloran saying it was clear to him from his reading of the UCC proposal that the university was “operating very firmly within the NUI human rights guidelines” in relation to such projects.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show that the project was to go for approval to UCC’s academic council in January and to the university’s governing body in February.

It would then, if approved, be submitted to the ministry of education in China this month, according to the plans shown to the NUI.

However, a spokesman for the university told The Irish Times on Wednesday that “university management has decided not to proceed with a joint college with Minzu University”. He would not comment further.

‘Core values’

The joint college proposal would have seen Cork’s involvement expand to include degrees in science, engineering, food science and law.

Among the documents submitted to the NUI by UCC was an “ethics review” by a UK consultancy on the question of whether the project with Minzu would be contrary to UCC’s “core values”.

In the report, which has been seen by The Irish Times, the consultants said that if it was decided not to proceed on ethical grounds, then it would not be feasible to continue with the already-existing UCC environmental science course with Minzu.

The Chinese would be “very surprised” if the internal consideration of the new project within UCC did not see it being approved, the report said.

Extracting UCC from the project would have to be handled “as tactfully as possible as there may well be repercussions on future opportunities for UCC in China if [Minzu] or the [Chinese ministry of education] considered that they had lost face.”

All of the four constituent universities in NUI – University College Dublin, University College Galway, University College Cork and Maynooth – have links with Chinese universities.