Australia tightens restrictions on foreign influence at institutions

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Before hundreds of thousands of international students return as borders shuttered by the Covid-19 outbreak reopen, Australia says it has stiffened foreign interference regulations for institutions to prevent self-censorship on campuses and the covert transfer of critical equipment. International education is Australia’s fourth-largest export sector, with China providing the majority of fee-paying students.
According to Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, the foreign interference guidelines will protect universities and students from “hostile foreign actors and intelligence services, who have been known to target sensitive research, muzzle debate, and intimidate foreign students,” she said on Wednesday (Nov 17).
According to the rules, Australia is worried that unwanted technology transfer and academics who do not declare links with armies or governments in countries that do not rate highly on transparency or democracy indices might jeopardise its economic edge.
Universities will decide whose employees will be subjected to background checks to see whether they have any ties to foreign governments or enterprises. According to Human Rights Watch, many Chinese students in Australian universities have produced an environment of self-censorship, with lecturers avoiding criticism of Beijing and Chinese students remaining mute for fear of persecution.

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