SYDNEY – Australian universities will name overseas research partners, list financial dealings with other countries and share cyberintelligence with national security agencies to curb foreign interference, Education Minister Dan Tehan said on Thursday.
Amid a spate of cyberattacks targeting universities and fears that China could influence research and students, Australia this year created a task force of intelligence officials and university executives to create new rules.
In publishing the new, voluntary guidelines, the universities pledged to declare foreign financial dealings on the same register that Australian lobbyists working for foreign countries use to declare themselves foreign agents.
The guidelines also increase the requirements on universities partnering with foreign countries on research projects. Higher education facilities will now have to review intellectual property rights and consider whether foreign military organizations might benefit from any findings.
“The foreign interference threat is at unprecedented levels. It will evolve so we’ve got to make sure our approach evolves with it,” Tehan told reporters in Canberra.
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said last month Beijing was targeting the nation’s universities. This stoked tensions with Australia’s largest trading partner, which denies any attempt to influence or interfere in Canberra’s affairs.
Foreign students are worth about 35 billion Australian dollars ($24 billion) a year to the Australian economy. Chinese students account for about a third of that figure, and Australia is worried that China could use this position to gain influence over its universities.
Beijing has previously denied any improper activities, accusing Australia of adopting a “Cold War mentality.”
China’s Foreign Ministry has also denied involvement in any hacking attacks and said the internet was full of theories that were hard to trace.
Relations between Australia and China have been strained in recent years over Australian fears of Chinese activity, both in Australia and the Pacific region.
Tension between the two countries were exacerbated again when Reuters reported Australian intelligence determined China was responsible for a cyberattack on its national Parliament and three largest political parties before the general election in May.