Vrije Universiteit halts China subsidy over concerns of academic independence
The Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (VU) halted a subsidy it receives from China for the Cross Cultural Human Rights Center (CCHRC) after concerns were raised about whether the center's employees had academic freedom to carry out their research. The amount the university already received for this year will be refunded, NOS reports.
These concerns arose after NOS revealed that several CCHRC employees have publicly championed China's human rights policy and denied that China oppresses the Uyghur people.
In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the CCHRC received a subsidy of between 250,000 and 300,000 euros from the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing. According to NOS, universities in China are closely associated with the Communist Party. In addition, the Chinese university was the sole financial contributor to the CCHRC in those years.
VU said in an initial response that "as befits the VU, the research of the CCHRC is independent, interdisciplinary, dialogical, and socially relevant." It now added that "even the appearance of dependence is unacceptable" when it comes to research. It is therefore taking appropriate measures, including halting the subsidy.
The VU said it has not yet decided whether it will also refund subsidies from previous years. That will depend on the results of an investigation the VU will conduct to determine "whether the independence of the institute's research has been safeguarded on all fronts."
Minister Robert Dijkgraaf of Education, Culture, and Science said that he was "very shocked" by the signals of possible academic dependence. "It is urgent and sensible that the VU now takes action quickly. Scientific core values such s academic freedom, integrity, and independence must always be guaranteed. It is important that Dutch knowledge institutions are and remain alert to possible risks of undesired influence by other countries and that they take adequate measures to safeguard academic core values, especially when it comes to universal values like human rights."