UK Universities-Huawei Partnerships, Why Do These Still Exist? | Nathan Wilson

As previously mentioned, in another article, one might begin to question why UK universities still hold partnerships with such a controversial state-owned company. Since Huawei was banned in the UK’s 5G infrastructure, one topic that has remained firmly under the radar is the Chinese state-owned company and its partnerships with some 35 UK universities. According to the BBC: found here, these include “Imperial College London, Surrey, Cambridge and Southampton”. This is not to mention its own research and development centres at “Bristol, Ipswich and Edinburgh, and two in Cambridge, and says it has spent an annual average of £80m over the last ten years on UK-based research in general”. Such partnerships, for many this seems to present multiple questions over the UK’s own development and security. Such problems will be examined after exploring Huawei’s official position on certain matters is made apparent. 

According to Huawei’s official blog: found here. Written in 2019 by the President of the Institute of Strategic Research, Huawei argues that the creation and continuation of its university partnerships are merely your standard Research and Development (RnD). This being that “our relationships with universities are not one-way partnerships where we simply harvest new knowledge generated by universities. A research collaboration is a two-way process where both parties exchange ideas and mutually benefit. Businesses can provide universities with inputs about pressing business challenges, technical challenges, and real-world scenarios. Academics are often eager for data and perspectives coming from outside the ivory tower”.

As Huawei is one of the world leaders in RnD regarding telecommunications and digital media, such actions it takes regarding its UK Universities are simply routine with what companies do and how they operate. Huawei goes on to present several prominent UK based examples of such places of research. This is shown with Huawei investing “up to £5 million every year, or a total of £25 million over five years. This money goes to support research into future communications network technology. The University of Cambridge has strong capabilities in research and innovation, and BT has real-world requirements and scenarios for future network development”. This is in reference to the 2017 partnerships that were made between said parties. 

This continues to demonstrate the view that what Huawei is doing is routine and therefore legitimate in their own external actions towards said research. This is best demonstrated by the final example that the Huawei blog presents, this being between the collaboration on 5G between Huawei and the University of Surrey. According to the blog, this “partnership has produced excellent results for both Huawei and Surrey, which is now at the forefront of 5G research in academia. With Surrey, we have opened the 5G Innovation Centre, which Huawei initially funded with £5 million. This centre has become a catalyst for collaborative 5G research, attracting over 20 partners that have together contributed £70 million”. 

If we ignore the direct Huawei funding and find a more holistic look at Sino-Anglo education, we can see further interesting results. Firstly, according to the BBC, “Tuition fees from Chinese students add up to at least £1.7bn a year across universities and independent schools”. Such significant funding is something that the government can not ignore. This is ignoring all previously mentioned funding by itself, which when presented holistically validates the view that the UK education could possibly be entrenching itself too much into being too reliant upon another nations funding. Overall, what this all shows is that the nation of China, currently holds a major strategic hold into the UK’s education system and the research being produced within itself. 

The key problem is that it has become widespread knowledge over the last few years that Chinese state-owned enterprises (like Huawei) can be merely fronts for official Chinese state operations. This means that the individuals working within these enterprises are not working for a shareholder or a boss but rather the Chinese state itself. This in turn puts great doubt into all research gathered and produced via Huawei’s partnerships with UK universities. 

Alongside this, it is also no secret that one of the UK’s best assets has been its universities and the research that comes out of them. According to QS’s ‘Top Universities’ in the Top ten European Universities 9/10 are outside of the EU and of those 7/9 are in the UK. If the UK is going to continue into its RnD and University successes, then it is going to have to walk the line between who they are working with and how they are funding said research. 

All of this is especially relevant considering that Huawei is banned within lots of the UK’s critical telecommunications infrastructure. Thus, raising the question of why is it still in our own universities? Such partnerships with foreign entities and why do the government still allow this?

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