There are currently around 2,000 PhD candidates in the Netherlands on scholarships from the China Scholarship Council (CSC), according to Trouw. But that number could fall in the years ahead. In particular, Delft University of Technology (where 242 scholarship students are working) says it is ‘increasingly reluctant’ to admit such PhD candidates, at any rate for projects on sensitive research areas. These include technologies that have civil and military applications.
Specifically, PhD candidates from the ‘Seven Sons’, a group of seven universities that have close ties with the Chinese army, and from the National University of Defense Technology are being turned down.
Maastricht University, Wageningen University and Utrecht University are also becoming increasingly reluctant. Another issue is that some of these researchers are barely able to survive on their scholarship.
Universities of The Netherlands (UNL) is struggling with the issue and tells Trouw that it wants more guidelines.
To be able to go to another country with their CSC scholarship, the Chinese PhD candidates have to endorse the communist party line and sign declarations of loyalty. There has been disquiet about this in other countries too. Family members act as guarantors for every PhD candidate during their PhD programme. They are liable for the costs if the PhD candidate terminates the programme prematurely or their academic performance is inadequate. Sums of up to 75,000 euros are involved.
It emerged recently that Chinese PhD candidates with a CSC scholarship are being asked to report on their progress to their embassy. They themselves do not take the reporting obligation very seriously.
Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has launched an investigation. Replying to parliamentary questions last month from the VVD, he said it is conceivable that China might be using the scholarship programme for PhD candidates to acquire advanced knowledge and technology.
If researchers suspect it is possible that their knowledge is being stolen, they can make a report to a special advice centre, concerned with the security of scientific knowledge. Last year, 148 such reports were made.