In a statement on Wednesday, Australia’s Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews said, Canberra has toughened foreign interference rules for its universities aimed at stopping self-censorship on campuses and the covert transfer of sensitive technology.
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,” said Andrews.
The guidelines say, these rules are requires since it could lose commercial advantage by unwanted technology transfer, and by researchers not declaring their affiliations with militaries or governments in countries that don’t rank highly on transparency or democracy indices.
Universities will determine on their own which staff will be required to undergo checks on their links to foreign governments or companies.
A high numbers of students from China at Australian universities have created an environment of self-censorship with lecturers avoiding criticism of Beijing and Chinese students staying silent in fear of harassment back home, said Human Rights Watch in June.
Although the new guidelines don’t specifically name China, they however feature case studies that parallel incidents involving China and the harassment of Hong Kong protesters on Australian campuses since 2019, as well as pressure on a university from a country’s consulate to retract an academic paper on COVID-19 because it embarrassed the foreign government.
The rules come at a time when Australia called for an independent enquiry into the origins of the Coronavirus, which was first reported from Wuhan China. Beijing hit back imposing tariff hikes on Australian exports to China, sparking a trade row.
Australia is not alone in imposing interference rules in universities, the European Commission is also developing foreign interference rules for universities in the bloc.