Across western higher education, elite institutions are normalizing authoritarian political systems—such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—when they should instead be under scrutiny.
Recently, the University College London’s student debating society hosted a discussion where panelists pushed the motion that “Chinese-style” governance could be adopted by other countries—an alarming belief that goes against democratic principles.
The event’s panel included Kerry Brown, director of King’s College London’s Lau China Institute, and Victor Gao, executive director of Beijing Private Equity Association and erstwhile translator for the late Deng Xiaoping, architect of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Brown, a member of the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, a non-governmental organization with a documented pro-CCP slant, and which routinely parrots dangerous lies about the situation in Xinjiang, admitted “with heartfelt sincerity”—and without a hint of irony—that he would be “very happy” if the Chinese model could be “brought to Britain” if it were possible. He argued that China’s complex model was not easily exportable, and suggested that its nationalistic leadership have little interest in making it so.
Perhaps he needed reminding that this very model of governance is responsible for herding between 1 and 3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims into “re-education” camps in the northwest region of Xinjiang, where they are subject to forced labor, sexual abuse, and organ harvesting.
Moreover, it borders on parody that this event selected a member of the Chinese Communist Party to speak, alongside obviously sympathetic academics, while someone with a truly opposite view was not invited to speak. Let us bear in mind that the taxpayers who fund British universities are overwhelmingly skeptical of Beijing, and that seven of the parliamentarians responsible for legislating in regards to their status were sanctioned by its authorities earlier this year.
None of Beijing’s ever-expanding list of abuses were cited by the panel as a reason why other countries may find China’s governing system impossible and unfavorable to internationally implement.

At the root of this crisis is the expansion and commercialization of universities. This has directly led to a dependence on foreign cash. Chinese students account for almost £2 billion in revenue for universities in the U.K. alone.
The Chinese state and its linked corporations have been effective in their lobbying of university administrators. In February, Oxford University agreed to re-name its Wykeham chair of physics as the Tencent-Wykeham chair—after the Chinese firm linked to the regime’s precise intelligence infrastructure in the wake of a £700,000 donation. In June, Peter Nolan, director of Jesus College Cambridge’s China Centre, was exposed for designating the Uyghur crisis as unsuitable for debate on campus.
It is clear that many academics have no financial or moral incentive to keep Beijing’s demands at bay.
Of course, it is not just the CCP that is manipulating British higher education. Top colleges routinely take large endowments from regimes and firms with links to repression, but among them, it is clear China that has the most cash to splash.
The teaching of world history and politics in Britain has been so denigrated, and our coffers so compromised, that we face an uphill battle in outlining the threat of authoritarian influence in our education system and rooting it out. This situation represents the tertiary sector’s spiraling disconnect with reality, echoing the historic tendency of “intellectuals” to be attracted to non-mainstream political philosophies. It mirrors how swathes of scholars in 1930s Europe openly flirted with fascism, and how plenty similarly made no secret of their penchant for all things Soviet.
Some pushback has begun.
In March, Tufts University in Massachusetts announced that it would close its Confucius Institutes after years of protests, and just this month students at the University of Exeter demanded that all ties with China be severed. There is much more to be de-coupled from, and little eagerness from academics to do so. If we allow a western scholarship to continue to prop up the apparatus of authoritarian regimes, we allow the classrooms that ought to be the pinnacle of our achievements to become accomplices in the world’s worst possible crimes.