University of Technology Sydney staff refuse China’s demand for passport numbers | World news

Academics at the University of Technology Sydney have refused a demand from the Chinese Ministry of Education for their passport numbers and dates of birth, in order to be able to continue to teach a joint Chinese-Australian course in Sydney.

Twenty-one UTS academic staff were told they were required to disclose their passport numbers and dates of birth as part of a Chinese government review of a biotechnology course run jointly by UTS and the Hebei Normal University (HNU), near Beijing in northern China.

Chinese students complete three years of the joint program at HNU, before completing a final year at UTS.

An email from the Chinese university – which is jointly supported by the Hebei provincial government and the Chinese Ministry of Education – demanded details of the UTS staff who would teach the students in their fourth year. HNU said it was to fulfil accreditation requirements. The details included academic qualifications and professional experience, but also passport numbers and dates of birth.

Several academics wrote to the UTS course co-ordinator, associate dean Professor Graham Nicholson, refusing to provide the details and arguing the demand from the Chinese university was an “overreach”.

UTS sought Australian government advice and no passport details were provided.

“UTS did not provide any passport numbers, and only months/years of birth,” a spokesman for UTS told The Guardian.

“It advised HNU that Australian government advice is that passport information should only be provided when applying for visas or to immigration officials. This advice was accepted without question.”

Also as part of the joint course, academic staff from HNU travel to Sydney to undertake “shadowing” programs of UTS teaching during lectures, practical classes and tutorials.

“Because in their first three years they must complete UTS-accredited subjects taught in both English and Mandarin, UTS developed a program to support HNU academics to develop the understanding, capability and confidence to deliver these subjects,” the UTS spokesman said.

The HNU staff who shadow UTS staff are all qualified science academics, holding PhDs in areas relevant to the biotechnology degree, and having published research papers in those areas, the spokesman said.

There is growing political and public attention on Chinese government influence within the Australian tertiary education system. Chinese students make up 29% of Australia’s 622,000 international students.

Beijing has been accused of being behind student surveillance networks across Australian universities, and campus protests in support of Hong Kong demonstrators have descended into violence – met by pro-Beijing counter-protests – in recent weeks.

The Morrison government has said it would examine whether universities should have to declare relationships with Chinese institutions under foreign influence transparency laws after leaked contracts revealed Chinese authorities were granted control over teaching at Confucius Institutes on Australian campuses.

The Confucius Institutes are joint ventures between host universities and a Chinese government entity, Hanban, that provides funding, staff and other support.

Last week, university vice-chancellors from across the country were briefed by the education minister, Dan Tehan, and intelligence officers from the Australian Signals Directorate on cyber threats.

The ANU was hacked by a foreign agent in June, compromising the personal details of thousands of university students and staff. Australian intelligence officials publicly said China was the likely origin of the attack, saying it was one of only a handful of countries capable of successfully pulling off the massive breach of 19 years of data.

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