Oz universities act against Beijing influence

World | REUTERS 15 Nov 2019

Australian universities will name overseas research partners, list financial dealings with other countries and share cyber intelligence with national security agencies to curb foreign interference, Education Minister Dan Tehan said.

Amid a spate of cyberattacks targeting universities and fears that China could influence research and students, Australia this year created a task force of intelligence officials and university executives to create new rules.

In publishing the new, voluntary guidelines, the universities pledged to declare foreign financial dealings on the same register that Australian lobbyists working for foreign countries use to declare themselves foreign agents. The guidelines also increase the requirements for universities partnering with foreign countries on research projects, in areas such as reviewing intellectual property rights.

"The foreign interference threat is at unprecedented levels. It will evolve so we've got to make sure our approach evolves with it," Tehan said.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said last month Beijing was targeting the nation's universities.

This stoked tensions with Australia's largest trading partner, which denies any attempt to influence or interfere in Canberra's affairs.

Foreign students are worth about A$35 billion (HK$186 billion) a year to the economy. Chinese students account for about a third of that figure and Australia is worried that China could use this position to gain influence over its universities. Beijing has previously denied any improper activities.

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