Australian universities fear that academics who receive overseas funding could be forced to register as foreign agents under new treason laws, The Australian reported.
The newspaper quoted government sources as confirming that researchers would have to register publicly as foreign agents if, for example, they received support on the condition that they wrote a paper aimed at influencing Australian politics.
Individual academics or vice-chancellors could also be required to register if they received foreign funds and engaged in political lobbying, the report said.
Universities Australia expressed concern about the impact of the legislation on academic freedom.
“We will seek clarification – and any amendments if needed – to ensure the legislation safeguards academic freedom, university philanthropy operations, and the vast array of global research partnerships, collaborations, and academic endeavours that Australia’s universities undertake,” a spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman added that the government should launch a formal consultation “to confirm the intended and potential scope of the proposed new laws and clarify or deal with issues of concern”.
There has been increasing concern over the influence of China on Australian universities in recent months.