University College Dublin (UCD) has agreed with the Chinese government to jointly operate a controversial new Confucius Institute on the Belfield campus until at least 2066, contracts between the two parties reveal.
A memorandum of agreement between UCD and Hanban, a propaganda wing of the People's Republic of China, says the institute will – for 50 years – have "exclusive free use" of a planned €7.4 million building that is due to open at UCD in 2016.
The building is being part-funded by the Chinese and Irish governments – each contributing €3 million – with the balance being paid by UCD. According to documents obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, UCD has also agreed to pay €500,000 a year towards the institute's running costs.
More than 450 Confucius Institutes have been set up by the Chinese government in partnership with universities around the world. While they are sometimes compared to cultural organisations such as the British Council and France’s Alliance Française, the Chinese model is unique in being located only on university or college campuses.
A small number of universities in the US, Canada and, most recently, Sweden have announced the closure of the institutes in recent years because of concerns about academic freedom. These were heightened last year when the director general of the Confucius Institutes, vice-minister Xu Lin, ordered that several pages be torn out of a programme for the annual meeting of the European Association of Chinese Studies in Portugal, partially funded by Hanban.
The agreement signed last October between Ms Xu and UCD president Andrew Deeks includes a penalty clause. If UCD puts the building to another use, it must pay Hanban the balance of its contribution at a rate of €60,000 a year.
The commitment to a 50-year free lease was originally made by former UCD president Hugh Brady in a contract with Ms Xu in December 2013. Dr Brady, then in the last month of his presidency, also agreed that UCD would contribute €5 million over 10 years to the institute.
UCD has operated a Confucius Institute since 2006, but the new building will upgrade this facility to a “model” institute under the Hanban network.