Message from the Vice-Chancellor and President

After the unacceptable actions of a small number of people inflamed what had been a peaceful student protest on 24 July, the University’s relationship with China has been the subject of considerable discussion.

There has been speculation by a few individuals that has no basis in evidence about our engagements with China. Their inference and unsubstantiated innuendos are a misrepresentation of UQ’s position.

As a global top 50 university, we are concerned with facts.

I, along with the University, have always been transparent about our engagements with China, and at all times have acted with integrity and autonomy. UQ strongly rejects any suggestion that our engagements with China have compromised our academic freedom, or are not legal – they have not been the subject of any form of investigation, nor have they breached any Australian legislation.

I am on the record, as Chairman of the Group of Eight universities in 2017, saying that any political pressure from China would be unacceptable. I stand by that position today.

By their nature, universities bring people with differing views together to exchange ideas and learn from one another. UQ, like other Australian universities, encourages the respectful and lawful expression of views, and makes every effort to provide a safe environment for mature debate. We do not tolerate hate speech, racism, violence and intimidation, and it would be disappointing if the unacceptable actions of a few detracted from the open and inclusive nature of our university communities.

Australian universities are teaching students to negotiate a changing world and a global jobs market, with all the uncertainties of global politics, technology and shared environmental challenges. To support UQ on this mission, we have more than 450 institutional partners in 56 countries.

The University believes, that everything else being equal, it is very much in Australia’s interests to have close engagements with other nations and organisations in as many areas, and on as many levels, as possible. Such relationships, based on mutual interest and respect, are in the strategic and economic interests of both Australia and the University.

In a climate of declining federal funding as a share of total university funding, international students subsidise our universities, especially our research programs. They also deepen our regional and international links, broaden the horizons of students, and strengthen Australia’s own ‘soft power’. History shows that many international graduates from Australian universities go on to significant positions overseas, and their time in Australia gives them a greater understanding of our perspective as we work together on some of the world’s greatest challenges. 

I hope that the following facts can address questions you might have, and provide reassurance that the University continues to operate with autonomy and integrity, and in line with UQ’s values.

 

Professor Peter Høj AC

 

Questions answered

Is UQ committed to freedom of speech?

The events of recent weeks show that UQ is absolutely committed to freedom of speech. It is a fundamental tenet of any democracy and goes to the heart of the pursuit of truth, and therefore knowledge. The University is committed to the principles of academic freedom, freedom of expression and institutional autonomy, and we have robust systems to enable these principles.

The Australian Government commissioned an independent review into university freedom of speech led by Robert French, former Chief Justice of the High Court Chief of Australia, late last year. The report found that there was no freedom of speech ‘crisis’ on university campuses. UQ is part of the ongoing discussions regarding a free speech ‘model code’.

Bullying and intimidating behaviour, including hate speech, will not be tolerated at UQ. All staff and students are required to abide by our relevant conduct policies including our Student Charter and Code of Conduct.

Why does UQ have a Confucius Institute?

UQ firmly believes that productive global engagement is a prerequisite for a more cohesive and prosperous world. UQ has formed more than 450 institutional partnerships in 56 countries. The University has offices in both Indonesia and the USA. 

The role of the UQ Confucius Institute is to promote the learning of Chinese language and culture, and a broader understanding of China, at the University and in the community. The Institute does not teach any degree courses at UQ. 

Examples of outreach activities undertaken by the Institute include a drowning prevention campaign for Chinese visitors to the state (at the request of Queensland Police Service), and a Chinese Film Festival (which showed an action adventure and a comedy) in partnership with the Australia-China Youth Association, which the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) sponsors.

There are 13 Confucius Institutes at Australian universities and one in the NSW Department of Education.

As an interesting aside we also note that there are almost 40 Australian study centres in Chinese universities. One of those, at Peking University, is an initiative of the Australia-China Council that will give more Chinese university students the opportunity to learn about Australia. 

What is the status of UQ’s Confucius Institute agreement?

The previous agreement – signed in 2009 - expired in April this year. The renegotiation of the agreement was discussed at UQ Senate meetings in April and May. The University has made it clear, in relation to both the Confucius Institute and the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, that our academic freedom and institutional autonomy are not negotiable.

The following were among the points raised, as reflected in the publicly available Senate minutes:

  • As the University wishes to have the ability to make the agreement available publicly, any references in the previous agreement relating to confidentiality should be removed.
  • UQ will continue to ensure that any agreement complies with applicable laws.
  • A mechanism to revoke the agreement (by both parties) should be included.

Is UQ compliant with the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme?

UQ is aware of its obligations under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS). The University considers that it has complied with its obligations, and will continue to monitor those obligations, under the FITS. 

It should be remembered that communication activities requiring registration under the FITS are those that are undertaken, solely or substantially, for the purpose of political or government influence. The University does not consider that the activities of the Institute in the agreement fall within the type of activities requiring registration under the FITS.

As we renegotiate the agreement governing the Confucius Institute, compliance with FITS will be front of mind, as will the University’s commitment to institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Has UQ been transparent with students about the renegotiation of its Confucius Institute agreement?

Students are members of both our Senate and our Academic Board. In addition, the President of the UQ Union is an ex officio member of Academic Board and is invited to attend Senate as an observer. Their role is to represent the student voice.

The minutes of Senate, other than confidential items, are publicly available.

The University also regularly meets and engages with the UQ Union President, along with other student representative groups.

Has UQ Vice-Chancellor’s engagement with China been appropriate?

The Vice-Chancellor has always been transparent about his engagements with China, and at all times has acted with integrity and autonomy, and in the interest of his employers and Australia.

The Vice-Chancellor is on the record, as Chairman of the Group of Eight universities in 2017, saying that any political pressure from China would be unacceptable. 

In his role, the Vice-Chancellor engages with many Australian and international government and business leaders, including President Obama who delivered a presentation at UQ in 2014 - the first time a sitting US President had ever done so.

The Vice-Chancellor has served on more than 35 Australian government committees and education and industry boards, including the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council, CSIRO and Lead Vice-Chancellor for Research for Universities Australia.

His immense contribution, over more than three decades, to the higher education and research sector continues to be recognised. In the past year alone, he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the Australia Day awards (in which his role with Hanban was explicitly mentioned), received the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Asia-Pacific Leadership Award and earned the prestigious fellowship of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) in the United States.

Recently, the Vice-Chancellor signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ramsay Centre to fund a new program in Western Civilisation.

The Vice-Chancellor believes that such relationships, across a broad base, is what a global top 50 university must do, in the strategic and economic interests of both Australia and the University.

Why was UQ’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Høj AC, a consultant on Hanban’s committee?

Hanban, an affiliation of the Chinese Ministry of Education, invited Professor Høj to be a non-paid consultant on 12 November 2013. His appointment was included on the Vice-Chancellor’s public biography and publicised on UQ News.

The position allowed the Vice-Chancellor to stress the importance of operating relationships in accordance with established Australian institutional values and procedures. These views were received and debated constructively.

Professor Peter Høj resigned from Hanban late last year. 

Why did UQ appoint the Chinese Consul-General to an unpaid Honorary position?

The appointment of Honorary Professor and Adjunct Professor title holders is common practice in universities.

In the past three years, UQ has appointed more than 260 professorial title holders. Such title holders include current and former members of the diplomatic corp. The role of title holders is to strengthen UQ’s position as a high-quality globally engaged and informed university.

Dr Xu’s nomination as an Adjunct Professor was supported by UQ’s School of Languages and Cultures, and he was offered the title earlier this month, until the end of December 2021. The University has no plans for Dr Xu to teach.

What is UQ doing about the student protest that occurred on Wednesday 24 July?

On Wednesday 24 July, a student-initiated protest took place at our St Lucia campus. Security staff became concerned when the unacceptable actions of a small number of individuals posed a potential safety risk to those present. Police were called and worked with UQ to help diffuse tensions.

A review was launched immediately into the circumstances that led to the incident. A thorough investigation is underway.

UQ students have been contacted where there have been any concerns raised either formally or informally about their safety, or their welfare.

We have also encouraged any students to contact police if they have concerns for their personal safety or about possible criminal behaviour.

What is UQ doing about incidents at the ‘Lennon’ wall on campus?

The University does not condone any actions that prevent free speech, including the targeting of the Lennon Wall in the Student Union complex at St Lucia.

UQ has supported student groups to display Lennon Walls at both St Lucia and Gatton campuses.

In response to incidents at St Lucia, UQ has stepped up overnight security patrols and appropriate action is being taken where individuals involved can be identified.

The University is continuing to offer support to students.