Last week marked the third UK-China High Level People-to-People dialogue. The actual dialogue took place on the afternoon of Thursday 17 September, preceded in the morning by an Education summit. At the summit the UK higher education sector was represented by Minister Jo Johnson and Universities UK CEO, Nicola Dandridge. On Friday a Higher Education roundtable took place at Cardiff University alongside similar events focused upon entrepreneurship and technical and vocational education. The morning events were followed in the afternoon by an Innovation Forum hosted by Cardiff University at the National Museum (Cardiff) with the British Council and the Chinese Education Association for International Exchange, at which the Chinese delegation lead, Vice-Premier Madam Liu Yandong, gave the keynote address. Her speech was wide ranging but principally concerned the value of collaboration and Chinese Government funding to support international collaboration and plans to streamline S&T administration in China by 2017.
Both of the Thursday events, the Education Summit and the People-to-People dialogue, are largely ceremonial in nature, a chance to reflect upon the progress of shared initiatives such as the UK-China Partners in Education (UKCPIE) Programme. The presence of senior representatives from the Chinese Government and higher education sector provided a cause and opportunity for a number of higher profile institutional agreements. From an overarching policy perspective the most significant signing was the revised UKCPIE Framework. The framework covers all levels of education, including current priority sports, and acts as a guide and enabler for future collaborative activity at a sector level. For example, the Study China Programme falls within the UKCPIE framework. Stated areas of collaboration for higher education include increased policy dialogue & exchange, greater cross-communication, and collaboration in quality assurance. Reflecting the feedback of UK stakeholders, including the International Unit, who sourced input via the Asia Community of Practice, innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration with industry appear as thematic areas for collaboration.
Within the formalities some more substantive issues were raised including the potential impact of the Foreign NGO Law. The law which is due to be passed later this year, calls for an enhanced range of reporting mechanisms for foreign NGOs operating in China, including a formalised role for the state security apparatus in their management. Further discussion and a translated text of the law are available here. Consultation upon the second draft of the law closed in May this year, at which point substantial representation was made by foreign Governments. The principle concern, as one might expect, is the ambiguity of its scope both in terms of range (as currently defined it would appear to include universities) and practical application. The British Government sought greater clarity on the scope of application and resulting operational effects. The response was indirect, referencing the importance of the rule of law in supporting development through a robust legal and regulatory environment, an environment designed to support rather than undermine mutually beneficial collaboration. This remains an issue to monitor, and may continue to grow in profile in the lead up to President Xi Jinping's state visit next month.
The Higher Education Roundtable in Cardiff, supported in organization by the International Unit, allowed for sector specific discussion. The event was well represented by both sides and provided an opportunity to profile successful collaboration and discuss opportunities and models for future work. Collaborative research models were put forward by the Chinese side, and taken forward with some enthusiasm by the UK, with a commitment from BIS to find funding for suitably qualified projects. The meeting also saw formal mention of funding from the UK Government under the UKCPIE to support a small number of pilot projects between UK and Chinese universities. This funding is the consequence of a proposal put forward by the International Unit with support from the British Council and UKTI in China, with the British Council to lead on implementation.
Formal details will be announced shortly.