University chiefs face being ordered to name foreign donors

University chiefs face being ordered to name foreign donors in new crackdown on influence-buying

  • Universities may have to disclose foreign donors giving more than £50,000
  • The proposal was made as an amendment to the Higher Education Bill 
  • Some universities have refused to name foreign donors due to contractual deals

Universities could be forced to declare all overseas donations in a crackdown on foreign powers buying influence.

An amendment proposed to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill would force universities to disclose the names of any foreign donors giving more than £50,000.

The Office for Students watchdog would publish the names on an annual register. The aim is to restore public trust and shine a light on potential conflicts of interest.

Ministers last year launched a probe into whether academics at universities receiving money from China were passing sensitive information to Beijing. 

This included British technology that could be used to aid the repression of minorities.

Linacre College will become Thao College following a multi-million pound donation by Vietnamese billionaire Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, who made her money through budget airlines. The college was founded in 1962 and named after Thomas Linacre, a renowned 15th century English scholar, humanist and physician

An amendment proposed to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill would force universities to disclose the names of any foreign donors giving more than £50,000. The amendment to the bill, which is currently going through Parliament, was tabled by Tory MP Jesse Norman (pictured)

Many universities rely on money from Chinese students. Some have previously refused to name foreign donors because of contractual deals and commercial sensitivity.

The amendment to the bill, which is currently going through Parliament, was tabled by Tory MP Jesse Norman.

The motion is seconded by MPs Sir Robert Buckland, Damian Green and Robert Halfon, the chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee.

Mr Norman said: ‘This is not a clause that in my mind is aimed at any specific individual or country or identifiable potential source of undue influence.

‘It is designed to improve the functioning and improve the reputation of British higher education, which after all is one of the jewels of the UK’s international reputation.’

Mr Halfon added: ‘Universities have been embroiled in controversial donations from Chinese firms, and from the Middle East over the past few years.

‘I am pleased to support this amendment which will ensure that proper scrutiny and transparency is applied and I hope that the Government will consider this amendment sympathetically.’

A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors, said: ‘UK universities are global institutions and will continue to welcome students from around the world.

‘As autonomous institutions they will are already responsible for developing policies and practices to manage and mitigate any associated risks.

‘These will be developed with reference to available advice, information and other guidance and Universities UK has worked with Government on a range of initiatives, including the “Managing risks in Internationalisation” guidelines to make sure that decision makers at universities have access to information they need to make informed choices.’

It emerged in November that Oxford University’s Linacre college will be renamed in honour of Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao – Vietnam’s first self-made female billionaire – who donated £155million

A Russell Group spokesman said: ‘Nobody disagrees with the importance of a transparent system of funding that has the confidence of the public.

‘Universities work hard to comply with the extensive transparency requirements that are already in place, including the recently enacted National Security and Investment Act.

‘The proposed amendment seems to require the collection and reporting of data on everything from the personal financial circumstances of individual overseas students who are being supported by family members, to historic contractual data relating to major research partnerships, and everything in between.

‘This would put a significant reporting burden on universities, risk overwhelming the OfS with a huge volume of returns from the sector and potentially deter inward investment from international businesses without adding meaningfully to the way we work to protect free speech.

‘We are ready to work with Government and parliamentarians to respond to their concerns, but we don’t believe the proposed amendment is the right approach.’

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