Rathenau concerned about growing academic cooperation with China

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In a recommendation (link in Dutch) to the government, the Rathenau Institute delved into the question of scientific cooperation with countries that do not guarantee freedom of speech and scientific freedom, China in particular. Sharing expertise with countries that limit academic freedom is a sensitive political topic.

Last year, independent think tank Clingendael Institute published an alarming report on the undesirable Chinese influences on the Dutch scientific community. The political arena has been expressing their concern about this matter for quite some time, but there are also many advantages to international cooperation, which is why the Dutch government plans to strengthen its ties with several countries, including China.

University employment
The Rathenau Institute shows that cooperating with China is nothing new. Between 2007 and 2019, the number of Chinese scientists employed at Dutch universities grew by 70.6 percent, from 398 full-time employees (FTEs) to 679 FTEs. These numbers do not include Utrecht University, nor the universities in Amsterdam, due to insuficcient data.

When it comes to PhD students, such detailed information about their nationalities is lacking. What is known is that almost one in four PhD candidates (23.8 percent in 2019) come from outside Europe. This share has increased by half since 2007.

The increasing cooperation with China is also evident in the publications. The number of co-authored Dutch-Chinese publications saw a sharp rise from 1,000 in 2010 to 4,000 in 2019, or from 2.4 to 6.8 percent of all publications.

The Rathenau Institute recommends the government to improve its screening procedure and the assessment of security risks for visa applications. They also advise introducing standard contracts for international cooperation.

It didn't take long for the Rathenau Institute to be proven right: its recommendation report was published without fanfare in January, and a month later the news broke out that a professor in Groningen had signed a contract prohibiting him from damaging China's reputation.