• UQ Responds has been created to share information on UQ’s engagements with China.

  • This page will be updated as required to provide clarity on various topics.


Questions answered

Who can speak on behalf of the University?

Students are free to express their personal views but not to represent themselves as official university spokespeople – even those elected by the student body to be a member of UQ’s Senate.

Among other things, doing so contravenes UQ's policies

The University has written to student, Drew Pavlou, advising him, that even as an elected member of the UQ Senate from 1 January 2020, he does not have the authority to speak on behalf of the University. The University has directed Mr Pavlou to cease purporting to make statements on behalf of the University.

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

The previous agreement – signed in 2009 - expired in April this year. The negotiation of a new agreement was discussed at UQ Senate meetings in April and May and the University has stated that it would be made public.

While these negotiations continue, and to ensure the new agreement rigorously protects the University’s autonomy, the Vice-Chancellor has asked that an assessment be undertaken of how the UQ Confucius Institute fits into the University structure moving forward.

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 in the Senate discussions, as reflected in the publicly available 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.

Why is international collaboration important for research?

Overwhelmingly, the world is a better place because of international research collaborations. It is by bringing together leading experts that important discoveries are made. A great example is the

Gardasil vaccine, co-developed by Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou at UQ in a strong partnership with CSL. More than 205 million doses of the Cervarix and Gardasil vaccines have been given in 130 countries. When fully distributed over the next two decades, it has been estimated deaths from cervical cancer will be reduced by an estimated 250,000 per annum.

Since 2014, 50 per cent of the University’s 42,000 published and publicly available research papers have involved international collaborations, with the top three being the US, the UK and China. Many outstanding researchers from all over the world choose to come and contribute to UQ and Australia. Only through working with the world’s foremost experts do we improve Australia’s capabilities in the latest technologies.

UQ has more than 450 institutional partners in 56 countries working on 1400 plus projects. The knowledge exchange from these partnerships goes both ways, with our students and researchers also benefiting from these collaborations. In addition, the research community makes a significant contribution to the economy.

How does UQ protect Australia’s interests when collaborating with international researchers?

To remain globally relevant Australia needs to continue to balance open and collaborative research with protecting the nation’s interests.

UQ complies with relevant Australian government requirements, including its responsibilities under the Defence and Strategic Goods list and Foreign Influence Transparency scheme. The University works collaboratively with many parts of the Government, and across the sector, to ensure Australia’s best interests are achieved.

The University recognises the need to remain and increase its vigilance going forward, and has welcomed the Federal Government’s University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) to provide greater certainty around international research relationships. UQ Vice-Chancellor Peter H?j has been chosen by the Government to be a member of the steering group, as well as having been a Defence Ministerial appointment to the Strengthened Defence Export Controls Steering Group.

UQ is Australia’s leading university when it comes to commercialising intellectual property through UniQuest, which benchmarks in the top 10 per cent globally. More than 100 companies have been founded and 300 US patents granted.

How does UQ respond to speculation that Australian AI research is being misused?

AI and data science is a huge focus for industry, government and research around the world.

The potential benefits of this technology in tackling global challenges are enormous but we need to ensure that the necessary policies and ethics are in place around its application.

The University does not condone the misuse of its research and would be very uncomfortable if this was the case.

UQ works proactively with the Australian Government through the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) and Strengthened Defence Export Controls Steering Group to ensure it remains vigilant and to provide greater certainty around international research relationships.

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, and has not been involved in designing courses or developing course content. 

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 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. 

Has the UQ Confucius Institute  provided any funding for courses?

The following courses received very modest funding from the Confucius Institute: English-Chinese translation and interpreting for students in science, engineering and technology; Chinese music; China in a changing world; and Understanding China. The Confucius Institute and its academics were not involved in the design or management of these courses.

At the May (2019) Senate meeting it was agreed that funding of courses from the UQ Confucius Institute would be discontinued. 

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 Confucius Institute in the agreement fall within the type of activities requiring registration under the FITS.

As we renegotiate the agreement governing the 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 H?j AC, a consultant on Hanban’s committee?

Hanban, an affiliation of the Chinese Ministry of Education, invited Professor H?j to be a non-paid consultant on November 2013. His appointment was included on the Vice-Chancellor’s public biography and publicised on UQ News. Professor H?j was appointed a regional delegate on the Confucius Institute Council in November 2017.

The positions 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 H?j 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.

In light of the changing geo-political situation, UQ is continuing to monitor and amend policies and practices in a reasonable and responsible way. While our long-running practices have not given us reasons for concern, the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor agreed that UQ’s future approach to Honorary Professor and Adjunct Professor positions be reviewed.

UQ Senate resolved on 12 September to end the practice of offering honorary or adjunct positions to serving foreign government officials. Existing appointments would not be renewed or extended. 

Is UQ committed to freedom of speech?

The events of recent months 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.

Has the University supported students affected by protests?

The University refutes the claims by some individuals about the support provided to students.

The day of the first protest – 24 July – the University issued a clear position that freedom of speech must be upheld and that it did not condone the unacceptable actions of a small group of individuals. The day following the protests, Student Services met with the UQ students’ union leaders to discuss what support could be provided. This engagement is continuing, both with the student union and the broader student population, and all necessary action has been taken.

The University’s investigations unit has made numerous requests to the students involved to provide statements and other evidence. Not all these requests were fulfilled.

At no time has the University tried to prevent people from expressing their views. In fact, the University has openly engaged with organisers of events and protests, and worked with them to ensure the safety of those involved. 

What is the economic importance of international students?

Education is Australia’s third largest export, generating more than $34b annual income and 240,000 jobs in Australia. Many of the jobs created are outside of universities.

UQ has the fifth highest international student fee income in Australia. About 18,000 of our 53,000 students are from overseas. In 2018, they contributed $570m in tuition fees alone, more than the University received in income from the larger Australian undergraduate cohort.

Last year, we had approximately 9000 Chinese students choosing to join our University community.

An external report found that three international students at UQ generate $1m for the Queensland economy.

What is UQ doing to mitigate financial risks?

The University is in a sound financial position, with a consolidated surplus of $72.7m in 2018 – up from $47.6m in 2017.  UQ takes a prudent approach to income from international students, investing it in infrastructure to benefit all students, rather than relying on it for recurrent expenditure and salaries.

Planning for, and managing risk, is a standard part of any large organisation’s operations. UQ acknowledges the importance of diversifying the mix of international source countries through a focus on partnerships, engagement and recruitment in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Latin America.

The University will also continue its commitment to increasing non-government research funding from industry and international sources, as well as income from philanthropy.

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. 

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

We also encouraged students to contact police if they had any 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 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 took appropriate action where individuals involved could be identified.

What is the status of UQ investigations into incidents at the protest on 24 July and at the Lennon Wall on campus?

A report on the investigation into the 24 July protest, based on the information UQ was able to obtain, has been provided to the Academic Registrar for consideration. The Integrity and Investigations Unit made numerous requests for students involved to provide statements and other evidence, but not all those requests were fulfilled.

Investigations relating to incidents involving the Lennon Wall are ongoing. The University continues to encourage witnesses to provide statements that are essential to enable the investigations to progress. 

Any disciplinary proceedings involving students must be confidential, in line with UQ policies.

Message from Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter H?j

August 2019

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Opinion by UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese on Australian universities and China

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