University College Cork (UCC) will not proceed with a project to form a “joint college” with Minzu University of China, a university that specialises in ethnic studies. UCC have not yet explained why they have chosen to abandon the project, but they warned that there could be “repercussions” if the former partner university were to believe the project had been abandoned due to ethical concerns. The other constituent universities in the National University of Ireland (NUI) – UCD, University College Galway, and Maynooth – also have existing links with universities in China.

Associate Professor Alexander Dukalskis, of University College Dublin (UCD), said the proposal raised “huge ethical questions as China’s ethnic minority policy has become one of the most oppressive in the world in recent years.” The associate professor told The College Tribune, “Universities – UCD included – need to think more seriously about ethics and academic freedom issues as they manage their international partnerships.”

Last November, academics at UCC performed a report on whether the Chinese university was linked to human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang. The Beijing government’s policy in Xinjiang has come under international condemnation where up to a million people have been transferred to camps as part of a Chinese Communist Party campaign which is designed to target “extremism”.

The depth of existing links between UCC and Minzu was evaluated by a steering group headed by UCC’s interim president, Prof John O’Halloran. Following voices of concern, the interim president requested Dr Maurice Manning, chancellor of the NUI, to review the move proposed. Dr Manning responded stating it was clear from his understanding of the proposal made by UCC that they were “operating very firmly within the NUI human rights guidelines.”

Documents released under Freedom of Information identified the project was due for approval by the academic council and governing body of UCC earlier this year. The project, if approved, was to be presented to China’s ministry of education this month. 

The proposal would have resulted in Cork’s involvement progress to include degrees in science, engineering, food science, and law. An “ethics review” by a British consultancy on whether the project would be contrary to the university’s “core values” was among the documents submitted by UCC to the NUI. 

The consultants stated if proceedings were halted on ethical grounds, then it would be impractical to continue with the environmental science course with Minzu. 

Caolan Dooley – Reporter