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RMIT granted Beijing authority over teaching at Confucius Institute

“Our activities with the Confucius Institute are focused on Chinese Medicine education and research,” a spokeswoman for RMIT said.

The teaching quality clause is identical to those agreed to by the University of Queensland, Griffith University, La Trobe University and Charles Darwin University.

UQ is renegotiating its contract and is set to enshrine stronger safeguards for the university’s autonomy. Griffith, La Trobe and CDU have all stated that the institutes are not involved in the awarding of formal academic qualifications.

Those contracts were revealed by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in July, with 11 previously secret agreements shedding light on the different approaches taken by Australian universities towards the Chinese culture and language education facilities.

Some universities appeared to be more assertive about their rights over teaching at their campuses, preserving greater decision-making power and limiting Hanban’s.

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The institutes are joint ventures between the host university, a Chinese partner university, and Hanban, an agency under China’s education ministry which supplies funding, staff and resources. Confucius Institutes provide teaching on Chinese culture and language and some hold public events on political, social and economic issues.

Another newly uncovered agreement, struck by the University of Adelaide and Hanban, is not as explicit in clarifying which party holds authority over teaching quality.

The agreement states the institute will be governed by a board, with the composition of the board to be negotiated and a director to be appointed by the university subject to Hanban’s approval.

The government ramped up scrutiny of universities’ compliance with recently introduced foreign influence laws following revelations about the Confucius Institute contracts.

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Amid a broader focus on university links to China, the Attorney-General’s Department is scrutinising whether the Confucius Institutes should be subject to the foreign influence transparency scheme.

All 13 universities have so far declined to register the facilities. Changes to the scope of the scheme have put universities at ease about their obligations.

Universities worldwide have embraced the centres but critics are concerned about censorship of sensitive political issues and centres operating as platforms for propaganda and undue influence on campus and beyond.

John Fitzgerald, an emeritus professor at Swinburne University of Technology and leading expert on Chinese politics, said the clauses on teaching quality assessments could place universities in breach of higher education standards if they related to the awarding of degrees.

“Even if they are not in breach of [Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency] standards, accepting foreign government assessments of Australian university teaching programs is hardly a good look,” he said.

The NSW government has moved to scrap a Confucius Classroom program housed within the Department of Education after a review found it was a globally unique arrangement that could “give rise to the perception that the Confucius Institute is or could be facilitating inappropriate foreign influence in the department”.

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