First Dutch University to Open Branch Campus in China Cancels Plans over “Academic Freedom”

The plans of the Dutch University of Groningen to establish a campus in China have been canceled as a majority of the University Council has raised concerns over the academic freedom and quality of education at the Chinese sister school.

The University of Groningen was to be the first university in the Netherlands to open a branch campus in China. In collaboration with the China Agricultural University in Beijing, the university planned to establish a ‘sister campus’ in the city of Yantai in northeastern Shandong, named University of Groningen Yantai (UGY/烟台格罗宁根大学).

According to a recent announcement on the official website of the University of Groningen, a large part of the campus had already been developed.

But on Monday, January 29, the university suddenly announced its plans were on a halt after a majority of the University Council voted against the opening of a Chinese sister school.

One the main objectives of the vote against the opening concerned worries over the academic freedom of students in China and the quality of education. In November of last year, local newspapers already reported (in Dutch) that the presence of a Party Secretary of the CCP in the campus board would be a prerequisite for the campus’s opening.

On Twitter, the topic briefly became one of the top trending topics in the Netherlands on Monday evening. Although many Dutch Twitter commenters supported the decision to cancel the plans in China, they also showed concern over the millions that have already been invested into the project.

On Weibo, various reports recently announced that the construction of the steel structure of the library building of the University of Groningen Yantai had already been completed, and that the development of the campus – which would include university classroom buildings, research spaces, dorms, restaurants, etc – was expected to be completed by the end of June 2018.

Although the initial plans of cooperation between Yantai and Groningen received ample attention in Chinese (social) media previously, news about the sudden cancelation of the university’s ambitious plans was not yet discussed in Chinese media nor on Chinese social media on Monday night.

By Manya Koetse

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