The Chinese government has, pilule this month, given approval to UCD’s International College in Beijing. The venture, which is being undertaken by UCD and Beijing University of Technology (BJUT), follows a proposal by UCD first mooted after the twinning of Dublin and Beijing in July 2011.

A spokesperson for UCD described the Beijing-Dublin International College as “an academic partnership designed to advance education.” They went on to state that, “The agreement between UCD and BJUT (Beijing University of Technology) is a result of a long and complex process requiring multiple stages of agreement and approval on both sides. Ultimately, the Beijing-Dublin International College will promote and encourage cultural understanding between Chinese and Irish students and staff, and also contribute to the growing positive relations between the two countries.”

While many have welcomed the new project as a means of boosting UCD’s position in an increasingly competitive and globalised market, there are those who express trepidation when it comes to UCD’s links with China, a country that has come under constant criticism over reported human rights abuses.

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, has stated that UCD ought to use their influence with the Chinese government to raise the issue of human rights in China.

“It’s obviously important that we build and maintain relations with a country like China,” stated O’Gorman, “but this is a government that detains thousands of men and women in prison or under house arrest simply because of their support for human rights.”

“China is the world’s number one executioner. It is crucial that institutions like University College Dublin use their influence in their contacts with the Chinese government to raise the concerns of many Irish people about China’s appalling human rights record. Academics and students in China have gone to prison for speaking out about human rights abuses. UCD should be a voice for them.”

Amnesty’s Communications Coordinator, Justin Moran added, “nobody is going to say that UCD need to change Chinese law or policy across the entire country. I think people need to be realistic about what an institution can affect, but they do need to be making those efforts to ensure that, for example, students on this campus – are they going to have the right to free speech, are they going to have the right to protest? If students in this campus want to hold a demonstration against the forced evictions in Beijing what’s going to happen, [are] the Chinese security forces going to be allowed into the college? Is UCD going to refuse to allow those protests to take place?”

A number of American universities that have established campuses in China have found that they must operate within the unfamiliar boundaries of China’s restricted academic freedom and right to free speech. UCD have not confirmed whether these issues, along with that of restricted Internet access, were addressed at any time during talks with Beijing authorities.

– James Grannell