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Scotland Dangerously Overleveraged by Chinese Investment

Updated: Apr 4

This blog is authored by Alyssa Fong, Public Affairs and Advocacy Manager for the UK and the Republic of Ireland at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation.

Last week, the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation returned to Scotland to discuss Scotland’s over-reliance on funding from China across multiple sectors but in particular higher education. We met with parliamentarians from all parties, as well as journalists, to discuss the risks to Scotland for depending so heavily on income sources from one country.

 (Left) Ross Greer, Green MSP, and (Right) Miles Briggs, Conservative and Unionist MSP.

It was great to be back in Scotland, a place I called home for 3 years following my exit from Hong Kong in 2020. Scotland promised a necessary comfort blanket for me after fleeing my home city. However, the CCP seemed to rear its ugly head in unexpected ways. Thousands of miles away from Hong Kong, I could still feel the tight grip of the CCP. How is this possible in a country so far from China?

A large part of the responsibility lies on the Scottish university sector, who are dependent on funding from Chinese sources. As a former Edinburgh University student and staffer, I know all too well the extent to which Chinese Scholarship Council and Chinese Communist Party members students will go to harass and intimidate Hong Kong, Tibetan, and Chinese dissenting voices in Scotland. This is not just an issue of transnational repression against residents of Scotland, but this is an issue of domestic economic prosperity and sustainability.

In our report with Civitas published in 2023, we exposed how Scottish universities accept a staggering proportion of their funding from the Chinese state and companies linked to the People’s Liberation Army. It is not just Scottish universities that are propped up by exorbitant international tuition fees, but the entire Scottish economy benefits from the financial contributions made in the property sector, nightlife sector, cultural activities, the hospitality industry, and the tourism industry from these students. After the Scottish university budget cuts were announced, Scottish universities were forced to rely on international students to make up for the loss.  A seemingly innocent endeavour which has allow the Chinese Communist Party to dig its claws deeper into the Scottish economy.

Scottish parliamentarians are not naïve to this issue. On Tuesday 26th, Scottish Parliament held a debate on widening access to education to make university more accessible to Scottish students. Brian Whittle, MSP (Conservative and Unionist), Martin Whitfield, MSP (Scottish Labour), and Ben Macpherson, MSP (Scottish National Party) all made mention to the growing risk of universities relying on China. Stewart McDonald, MP (Scottish National Party), has raised his concerns in Westminster of multiple sectors being overleveraged by the Chinese state.

Parliamentarians are aware of the risks involved from relying on a sole income stream. The Government and university funding bodies need to heed the words of their parliamentarians and diversify their funding sources or face the risk of major economic collapse if Chinese funding is ever pulled as well as continuing to see transnational repression against those who stand up to the CCP on Scottish soil.

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