Pre-print of the German version:
English translation of the op-ed:
Pre-print of the German version:
English translation of the op-ed:
Since it is always important to hear the arguments of both sides, and for the sake of completeness, here is the link to an English translation of the original FAZ op-ed text by Björn Alpermann and Gunter Schubert: https://www.researchgate.net/messages/87357974 ,
and to parts of a debate enfolding afterwards on LinkedIn, including another response by B. Alpermann and G. Schubert: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn%3Ali%3Aactivity%3A6909761823638446081/?midToken=A... .
Thanks to Professor Ahlers for providing the links.
For those who have not been following, the full debate is very much worth checking out.
I would like to second Thomas DuBois's recommendation to follow (and contribute to) this debate. Beyond the German specifics (which, for instance, involve constitutional law aspects not applicable elsewhere), it deals with an issue that is relevant to China scholars anywhere: Can China scholars be trusted to conduct research in and on China involving cooperation with Chinese partners in a politically and ethically responsible manner? Or do dependencies (e.g., financial or visa-related) created by cooperation with Chinese colleagues and institutions disqualify them from making that judgment call and require regulation of China-related research by Western governments, funding agencies, and university administrations?
This affects everyone outside of the PRC engaged in any kind of scientific cooperation with PRC-based institutions: scholars in the humanities as well the social and natural sciences, engineering and industry-supported research, universities that maintain branch campuses, research centres, or study-abroad programmes in the PRC, etc.
Similar issues are probably already being debated in other national academic communities; connecting these debates might be mutually enlightening for all.
Leipzig University, Germany
On Thursday, 24 March Professor Schubert asked me via LinkedIn to provide more specific information about my work on financial dependencies in the British higher education sector. Please find below my reply from Friday, 25 March 2022 (translated from German with the help of DeepL):
I have summarized my experiences in the UK in an article for APuZ:
Fulda (2021), Preserving Science Autonomy. China and science in the UK, February 12, 2021, From Politics and Contemporary History.
I am also a member of the Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group (AFIWG).
We have developed a Model Code of Conduct for UK universities.
I have also advised the University of Nottingham, Universities UK, the Foreign Affairs Committee, APPG Hong Kong, and the Cabinet Office on reducing institutional and financial dependencies from China.
As you can see, we have been advocating for greater transparency and accountability in higher education here in the UK for some time."
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
In a LinkedIn post from Friday, 25 March Professor Alpermann raised the issue of financial dependencies on China in British higher education. He argued that funding from China to German universities can only be measured in the thousandths. Even with unreported contributions he suggested that they unlikely make up more than 0,6% of the total amount of public funding for German universities (32,7 billion Euro). Please find below my response from Friday, 25 March (translated from German with the help of DeepL).
In my opinion, third-party funding plays an (overly) important role in the UK as well as in Germany.
Matthias Becker has shown in an article for Deutschlandfunk Kultur that basic funding is not always sufficient for research.
And it is idle to compare the percentage of funding from China with the total amount of public funding to German universities. Measured against Germany's gross domestic product (GDP) of 3,570.6 billion (2021), the 32.7 billion in spending on German universities that you cite is also only less than 1% of GDP. Such comparisons are naturally lopsided.
From the perspective of individual scientists and their research institutes-especially in the humanities and social sciences-annual project funds of 100,000 euros and more already represent a lot of money. German universities should therefore also create transparency in the field of sinology and social science research on China."
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Since Dr. Andreas Fulda posted his reply to Björn Alpermann’s LinkedIn comment regarding "Chinese money at German universities" (https://unis.davidmissal.de/) it might be useful to get a bit of context.
In November 2021 Andreas Fulda and David Missal were invited to a roundtable discussion on alleged pernicious influences by China in German universities and Chinese studies more generally at the annual ASC conference (Association for Social Science Research on China – a sub-division of the German Association of Asian Studies, DGA). In particular, we discussed the then-recently published article:
Andreas Fulda & David Missal (2021): Mitigating threats to academic freedom in Germany: the role of the state, universities, learned societies and China, The International Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2021.1989412
In this text the authors make far-reaching claims about how much German universities are, in their view, overly reliant on “questionable third party funding” including from Chinese sources. Inter alia, they write: “This [increasing reliance on industry and other third-party funding] is all the more a problem since by now one in four posts at German universities are funded by third parties.” (p.5).
Here, they mix up – whether deliberately or unintentionally – several unrelated things. Yes, there is a great number of research positions in German universities that are being paid for by third parties. Yet, the great majority of these are funded by public money – disbursed by DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) and others. In fact, the share of industry / private funding for universities has declined over the recent past. In 2009 it stood at 22.9 percent, ten years later in 2019 at only 17.2 percent. Presenting all third-party funded research positions as instances of “questionable” financial influences greatly distorts the picture. However, this is a constant trait in Dr. Fulda’s argumentation: Presenting figures and claiming influence without delivering any empirical evidence for how such influence might have played out. We find this unconvincing.
Something else is wrong in this image: The authors claim: “Yet in the wake of the Bologna process German universities were subject to cost-cutting measures and increasingly fierce inter-university competition.” (p.5). While competition per se may not be such a bad thing, the authors do not get their facts straight. In the year 2000, when the Bologna process began, German HE institutions spent an accumulated 33.7 billion DM, in 2020 the figure was 32.7 billion EUR – nearly double the earlier figure given the difference in currencies! In the years 2010 to 2019 alone public funding for German HE climbed by 46.2 percent (BLK-Bildungsfinanzbericht 2000/2001, 83; Statistisches Bundesamt, Bildungsfinanzbericht 2020, 55). Of course, many academics in Germany are still complaining about lack of funds and losing out on lucrative funding (“Exzellenzinitiative”), and one may find a lot to criticize regarding these trends. But the sheer numbers do not bear out the bold – though unsubstantiated – portrayal of German HE being bled out financially.
A last example for where Andreas and David’s text does not stand up to scrutiny: In the section on “suspicious party-state funding” they write – again without providing anything in terms of reference or evidence: “Many degree programmes at German universities could not be offered without funding from PRC entities.” (p.8). We sincerely doubt that and would love to see evidence for this bold claim. None has been provided so far.
It was this article, along with a companion piece (https://doi.org/10.25365/jeacs.2021.2.205-234) that stimulated us to respond in our FAZ op-ed “An argument against moral crusading” (English version: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359336881_An_argument_against_m...). We think that when the political stakes are high, we need to be all the more accurate in adhering to academic standards in making arguments and presenting data to support them. Yet, Andreas Fulda et al. have not come up with any additional evidence to back up their claims but simply chose to ignore our criticism of their flawed argument. That’s why we have come to believe that Dr. Fulda et al. are on a mission to evoke the impression of problematic, if not unacceptable Chinese influence at German universities. Yet. everything they present does not stand the test of academic scrutiny.
In the debate now ensuing via the German daily FAZ and on social media this trend continues. In their reply in the pages of FAZ (English version posted in this thread earlier) they write:
“Massive financial resources flow from the Chinese side to German cooperation partners via Confucius Institutes and university partnerships. This thesis is based on more than a hundred requests to public authorities made by Missal under freedom of information laws, which can be viewed on the website unis.davidmissal.de. There, it is documented that German universities receive several million euros from China every year without much effort, often several hundred thousand euros per university. Both the University of Würzburg and the University of Tübingen, where Alpermann and Schubert teach, have left the inquiries unanswered.”
Leaving aside for the moment, that the authors apparently try to suggest that we somehow colluded in masking the sinister financing of our institutions by Chinese sources (which is utter nonsense), the fact of the matter is that David Missal’s request was only answered in a substantial way by less than ten universities. By our count there are six universities listed on his website that did provide concrete data on Chinese financing, the majority of them either declined to answer outright or stated plainly that there was no Chinese financing at their institutions. While Fulda et al. point at “more than a hundred requests” their effective sample is much smaller. This is exactly the type of half-truths and suggestive language that is typical for Fulda’s writings in particular.
Finally, coming to the sums involved. David Missal’s research – expanded to include open-source information on university co-operations with China – shows that “at least 1.9 million Euro per year on average” can be documented to flow from China into German higher education. In Björn Alpermann’s LinkedIn post he pointed out that this is equivalent to 0.06 permille (!) of official budgetary outlays by German governments at all levels for the university sector. Even if we assumed – hypothetically – that there is an extraordinary amount of undocumented financing, let’s say equivalent to one hundred times the documented funds, then this would still amount to just 0.6 percent of German higher education funding. This leads us to conclude that Fulda et al.’s claim “Massive financial resources flow from the Chinese side to German cooperation partners via Confucius Institutes and university partnerships.” is unsubstantiated. There is nothing “massive” going on here. One may, of course, question the wisdom of some cooperative arrangements. But we need to keep a sense of the proportions of the problem at hand and not engage in fear-mongering.
We share Dr. Fulda’s request for more transparency of third party funding at German universities - not only with respect to China, by the way. However, this is rather a technical problem as we understand it. To insinuate, again without any evidence, that German universities would withhold those figures for avoiding to be exposed as politically leaning to China, is itself highly problematic.