University of Oslo under fire for hosting Fudan center

NORWAY

The controversy over the University of Oslo agreement to host the European center of the Chinese University of Fudan, signed in February, has reappeared in the last fortnight, sparked by parallel anger in Hungary, where protesters have taken to the streets to oppose the plans for a branch from Fudan to Budapest.

“I have full confidence in the management of the center of China by the University of Oslo,” said Norwegian Minister of Research and Higher Education Henrik Asheim in response to a question in the Norwegian parliament from the head of the Education Committee, Roy Steffensen, June 9. .

He was forced to defend the arrangement the day Hanne Skartveit, political editor of Verdens gang, the leading Norwegian newspaper, warned that “a center controlled by the Chinese Communist Party is being established at the University of Oslo. It’s naive.

She called the Oslo-Fudan agreement a “fox in the university henhouse” and pointed out that the only other country in Europe to have hosted Fudan University is Hungary, “a European country on the run from democracy” .

“China has secured an agreement to build and finance a new university in the capital Budapest, partly with loans and partly with direct funds from China. This created massive protests. The inhabitants of the capital will not have a university run by China that breaks with academic freedom. And the protests were successful, ”Skartveit said.

“Now [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán has promised to organize a plebiscite in Budapest on the issue. Most people think the city will reject the Chinese offer. And then Oslo can be the only anchor point in Europe for Fudan University.

“The fox is on his way to what looks like a college henhouse. And it’s amazing that the door was opened from the inside, ”she said.

Copenhagen transfer

In December 2020, the University Senate of the University of Oslo (UiO) received a note from the Rector informing them of negotiations with Fudan University to transfer the European center to Oslo after the Danish University of Copenhagen decided to close the center there.

“The University of Oslo collaborates with 12 of the most important universities in China and Hong Kong. And during the years 2014-19, more than 2,400 collaborative articles were published in all major scientific fields, including the humanities and social sciences. And we have more than 50 Chinese PhD students studying in our university. It is the result of a long and good collaboration ”, indicates the note.

He added that 25 years ago, UiO was one of the universities that took the initiative to establish the Nordic Center at Fudan University in Shanghai. Today, more than 20 Nordic universities have contributed to better collaboration between Nordic and Chinese scientists and now UiO has become the host of the Fudan-European Center for China Studies.

“The center is virtual but houses a researcher and an officer from Fudan and an administrator from Oslo. The objective is to make possible a greater research collaboration with Fudan and to strengthen student exchanges and communication on research, ”the note said.

Critical voices

However, after the deal was signed, UiO-based Professor Harald Bøckman, the great old man of Chinese studies in Norway, wrote an opinion piece in Khrono, the Norwegian University’s online newsletter, stating that “in general, Fudan may be the best Chinese university to cooperate with, but that’s another thing.”

“Unlike the Confucius Institutes which are a national program run from China, this initiative comes from Fudan University, but it still has the character of being part of a global Chinese strategy which is undoubtedly endorsed by the highest. political level in China. “said Bøckman.

“Over the past eight years, there has been a constant flow of visiting professors, stakeholders and politicians. [from China] in Copenhagen. This traffic in the other direction has been very limited. And the way in which scientific questions are presented reflects the political strategies that underpin [them],” he said.

He said many came directly from Chinese President Xi Jinping and his speechwriters: “ecological civilization”, “the peaceful rise of China”, “the best Chinese solutions to solve global issues”, “the One Belt One Road initiative [the global investments strategy of China]”And” to build together a unity of faith for humanity “.

“It’s an ideology disguised as an academic,” said B, ”ckman.

He accused the rector, deans and others who had prepared the agreement of not doing their homework.

According to Bøckman, while the note for the senate lists nine benefits of the agreement for UiO, this is very skewed since the overall political framework is not discussed.

“The motivations on the Chinese side are not mentioned. In particular, it is a pity that the center is part of the Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, where the Chinese language is taught. Here we see the cuckoo again, which will grow and significantly affect other work, ”said Bøckman.

In a response to Bøckman on March 7, UiO Rector Svein Stølen, together with Professors Heidi Østbø Haugen and Mette Halskov Hansen and Head of Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages ​​Rune Svarverud, said: “We believe that academic collaboration with China is more important now than ever.

“Bøckman’s argument that Fudan researchers are passive spokespersons for the Chinese regime is not justified. We have chosen Fudan University as a collaboration partner because some of the best Chinese scientific circles in the fields of natural sciences, humanities, law and social sciences are based there, ”they said, adding that the center today involves 25 Nordic universities.

A second article by Professor Bøckman in a major Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten May 26 sparked a wider political debate Verdens gang, in which Rector Stølen and Pro-Rector Åse Gornitzka responded, saying cooperation with China needs to be seriously considered.

“Authoritarian and populist governance is on a winning path in many places and freedom of research is threatened in many places, notably in China. The enormous global climate, environment and health challenges require a thoughtful strategy of collaborative research and higher education across national borders.

“We must achieve a balance between conflicting needs and interests [in this work]. It is an important part of our daily work at an internationally oriented university like the University of Oslo, ”they said.


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