New Silk Road opportunities are high on EU and HE agenda

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At present, Brexit is having a negative impact on the global reputation of United Kingdom’s higher education. However, instead of blanket coverage of Brexit as has been happening in the UK, the highlight was on Italy’s US$1 billion New Silk Road partnership with China, Luxembourg’s deal with China, the United States’ distress about the so-called cybersecurity intimidation involving Chinese technology giant Huawei, and EU leaders’ discussions about terms and conditions for collaboration with China.

The discussions with China are of preeminent significance for the EU, not only because it has become a leading competitor but also because the EU is recognising the influence of China’s New Silk Road or One Belt, One Road initiative.

Even though there is doubt about China’s investment leading to new dependencies, particularly in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, the EU is also mindful of the various opportunities the New Silk Road (NSR) initiative offers.

China’s influence on the global stage is widening. Concurrently when US President Donald Trump and the US right are assaulting multilateralism, China’s president had brought attention to the growing anti-globalisation and protectionism and reinforced the significance of multilateralism, pledging to uphold and collectively transform frameworks such as the World Trade Organisation guidelines.

The preferred periods for internationalisation for higher education are based on multilateral economics and politics, regional unification, the knowledge economy paradigm and liberal values of an open society.

However, as the US move away from multilateralism and the UK from regional European unification, the question is if we should now view our relations with China in terms of a partnership that is critical to maintain and change global institutions that serves as the backbone for multilateralism?

While it would be good to have China on board for multilateralism, trade and open borders, and for peace and climate change; it is also hard to determine how “globalisation with China’s characteristics” will follow with the challenges of human rights, rule of law and civil society.

A research carried out at Shanghai Jiao Tong University with Harvard University demonstrated that it is time to view China not merely as a follower but rather as potential leader. Therefore, it is critical to comprehend the influence of the NSR initiative on higher education collaboration. China’s progression is one of the most critical geopolitical tendencies at this point in time and it will have its effect not only due to its size – and we need to better comprehend globalisation and varying perspectives.

The research data demonstrated a significant growth in the number of students enrolling in developing countries as opposed to OECD countries, with a compelling shift in Asia, particularly in NSR countries. Similarly, in research, China is making extensive engagements, with data illustrating spending on R&D bypassing the share of gross domestic product spent on R&D in the EU since 2014.

Analysis reveals that over the past 40 years partnership between the EU and China in higher education and research has become closer and more intense and targeted at growing collaboration and directing towards common global objectives.

China has grown at a significant rate from a developing country to partner and event to competitor of the EU in specialist knowledge spheres and this partnership is getting increasingly strategic and complicated. However, becoming a competitor does not preclude global partnership towards common goals such as the United Nations’ sustainable Development Goals.

However, currently these plans do not include other areas of high potential in the next decade such has advanced computing, data science, robotics and artificial intelligence, fields in which China aims to become world leader by 2030.

Convergence is less apparent on conditions for data privacy and data sharing, since all science data in China must be sent to government-sanctioned data centres before materialising in publications. This is however inconsistent with EU’s advocacy for open access, open science, and feeds into concerns about mutual academic integrity and academic freedom.

Even so, many new alliances are raising in higher education related to the NSR initiative, such as the University Alliance of the Silk Road with 128 universities. In addition, there is also a consistent disproportion in flows of students, researchers, grants and money, with greater inclination towards STEM. For instance, Horizon 2020 co-publication between China and EU is 90% STEM subjects. The alliance has emerged at a significant rate from assistance to collaboration to competition parallel with China’s growth from the workshop of the West and a country from which some countries want to mobilise numerous fully paid up Chinese students to ‘China 2025’.

Hence, cooperation will have to be more strategic in the leveraging of knowledge attained and created and that involves dual use; who is studying here, who is studying there, with whom do we work with for research and what is the research’s significance – military and/or civilian activities.

However, at the same time, it should be noted that EU is hampered in dealing with China by its own internal interests, to do with anti-global sentiment, nationalist, protectionist, polarising inclinations that have become apparent, not only in the UK, but across various European countries.

Source: University World News 

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