Time to shut down Confucius Institutes, says City president

Sir Anthony Finkelstein told MPs that the language centres were an ‘explicit tool of Chinese influence’

March 1, 2023
Anthony Finkelstein
Source: City, University of London

Allowing Confucius Institutes to operate within UK higher education institutions is “ill advised” because they are an “explicit tool of Chinese influence” on campus life, a university president has told MPs.

Appearing before the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, Sir Anthony Finkelstein, president of City, University of London, said he welcomed moves to end the operation of the China-funded learning centres which operate on 30 UK campuses, as well as across the US and Europe.

The centres have been accused of being Trojan horses for spreading Communist Party influence and monitoring Chinese students abroad, with Rishi Sunak promising to close the institutes in July during his leadership run-off against Liz Truss. In November, security minister Tom Tugendhat confirmed that the government “will be looking to close Confucius Institutes in the UK”, stating that the centres “pose a threat to civil liberties in many universities in the United Kingdom”.

Addressing MPs on 28 February, Sir Anthony, who was the government’s chief scientific adviser for national security before moving to City in July 2021, said: “If we saw a rapid move away from [Confucius Institutes] that would be a good thing.”

Describing the presence of Confucius Institutes on UK campuses as “ill advised” and “an explicit tool of Chinese influence”, Sir Anthony added that they “play not simply a practical role” in terms of teaching Chinese language and culture “but also play an important symbolic role”.

“A step away from [Confucius Institutes] in an orderly way while preserving and perhaps growing the ecology of Chinese language studies would be a good thing,” said Sir Anthony, who suggested that Taiwan could offer alternative provision.

However, Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, told MPs that Confucius Institutes were “beneficial” to UK universities and society. He noted that one of the institutes had partnered with the Department for Education for many years to offer Chinese language teaching to primary schools.

Without the institutes, it would be much harder to equip graduates with the language and cultural skills they need to work with China, which he described as a “huge global player” in terms of trade.

“The UK needs to have a wider pool of expertise and capabilities in Mandarin to understand China if we want to do business with them,” said Dr Bradshaw. “If that is not going to come through Confucius Institutes there is a role government should be playing…to train in language,” he said.

Alan Mackay, deputy vice-principal (international) at the University of Edinburgh, also drew attention to the UK’s relative lack of graduates in China studies, stating the country produced just 200 graduates a year in this area. “That’s incredible and we have to step up our game,” said Mr Mackay, who warned that banning Confucius Institutes would probably lead to the suspension of British Council activities in China.

Quizzed about the funding received by Edinburgh for its Confucius Institute, which MPs said amounted to £6 million, Mr Mackay said the money was “0.001 per cent of annual income” given the figures related to funding received over a number of years. “Could we live without it? The answer is yes,” said Mr Mackay.


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Reader's comments (3)

This is very short sighted. The Institutes are important for encouraging the learning of Mandarin & of Chinese culture. Other ways could be found to mitigate negative influences without ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’
I have very little experience of the negative aspects of the Confucius Institutes, but am aware of the positives of them and the Mandarin Excellence Programme that are instilled in many primary schools. It has been pointed out on a number of occasions that there are not enough British native English speakers that have a high level of Chinese. To overcome this we need these centres here and we need to sort out sensible study pathways as the current A level is totally unfit for purpose.
As usual Sir Antony just gives his opinions on thing he has not idea about.