Strengthening Europe-China Collaboration in Higher Education and Research

As part of an ongoing effort by the LeidenAsiaCentre to contribute to the strengthening of Europe-China collaboration in the fields of higher education and research, a new research project regarding this topic has started in April 2020. Publication and presentation of this LeidenAsiaCentre project is expected in September this same year.

The collaboration between Europe and China in the fields of higher education and research (HE&R) is rapidly expanding. Research in recent years has demonstrated that much of this collaboration benefits all parties involved and contributes to scientific achievements and the internationalization of higher education. However, such research has also shown that there are a considerable number of cases in which the collaboration is not mutually beneficial, lacks transparency, raises questions about scientific integrity, and/or is subject to political interference. As a result, European stakeholders such as HE&R institutions, national European governments, and European Union institutions, have started to look more critically at HE&R collaboration with Chinese partners. They have become aware that they need to take a more strategic and deliberate approach towards this collaboration, one that is based on an informed assessment of risks and opportunities. In practice this means that stakeholders are confronted with many questions such as: What knowledge do we need before we can make sound decisions about a cooperation project and where do we find that information? Who is responsible for developing and implementing guidelines, checklists and measures such as screening? These and other questions lie at the heart of a new research report by the LeidenAsiaCentre.

Building on the findings and recommendations of an earlier LeidenAsiaCentre research report on Europe- China HE&R Collaboration (November 2018), which concluded that there is a pressing need for European HE&R institutions to take a more strategic approach to collaboration with China, the new report takes a next step by focusing on the question how European stakeholders can cooperate and contribute to ensuring that all HE&R collaboration with China is equally beneficial to both sides, carries little to no risks in terms of knowledge security, and safeguards scientific integrity and academic freedom. It does so by collecting and analyzing new policy approaches and best practices that European stakeholders have undertaken to mitigate potential risks and improve the collaboration with Chinese partners.

The report will consist of the following parts:

  • A brief analysis of the changing international context in which HE&R cooperation between Europe and China takes place.
  • An analysis of major recent developments in China’s HE&R in terms of strategy, policies, and the academic climate. In this analysis ample attention will be given to how the current Covid-19 crisis is affecting HE&R in China and Europe-China HE&R cooperation.
  • It will subsequently map how European stakeholders have been dealing with the recent, more critical, outlook on collaboration with China, and to the call to better assess the challenges and risks involved. In doing so it will address the question if and how this has affected their cooperation with Chinese partners.
  • The body of the report will focus on how HE&R institutions, national governments and EU institutions, can play a role in strengthening HE&R collaboration with China, both in terms of minimizing risks and maximizing opportunities. Best practices and guidelines will be gathered and discussed.
  • In the conclusion a summary of findings and different sets of recommendations, customized to different groups of stakeholders and the different roles they play, will be presented.
  • Finally, an extra chapter will be devoted to the Netherlands. Building on the findings of the Dutch “Update on HE&R cooperation between The Netherlands and China” published by the LeidenAsiaCentre in September 2019, this chapter will discuss in detail what the latest developments mean for the Netherlands and which best practices and recommendations would best fit the Dutch situation.

Research methods

The research for this project consists of desk research and interviews with relevant actors from China, various European countries and the EU. Compared to the 2018 report, this study will obtain a broader picture of developments in Europe by including case studies from Western, Eastern and Southern Europe. The research project and the report will be closely followed and reviewed by a group of advisers consisting of academic experts, and government and HEI policy makers with experience in the field.

April – September 2020

Dr. Ingrid d’Hooghe (project leader)

Jonas Lammertink

David Pho

Special contributor
Dr. Ivana Karásková