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Two years on from their initial “China Question” report, the team at Kings College London have produced a follow up report reviewing ‘progress’ towards their desired objectives. Overall I’d say that the report provides a detailed review of the current state of play. The data clearly shows the relevant trends and the argument diagnoses some of the challenges facing UK institutions as they, slowly, begin planning for de-risking and diversification.

However I was hoping for more detailed recommendations from the team on research given that they are so informed – what is required to help UK institutions to diversify their research partnerships? How do we develop more homegrown doctoral students? If the sector is collectively taking a “cross your fingers strategy” – what should it be doing more proactively and what is required from government or other actors to support them?

Given this lack of recommendations, here are a few of my own:

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A review on why homegrown doctoral talent seems so scarce, particularly in STEM, and government action to address this challenge – although we’ve seen repeated attempts to encourage more domestic students into STEM pathways, these haven’t yet been successful, so clearly more needs to be done

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Improvement in Chinese education and knowledge about China in both the university sector and government – both as general education and specific support for existing leadership. This will make it easier to understand what risks there may be and make informed, strategic decisions about securing long term partnerships

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RCAT already exists to provide specific advice, and UKRI should be continuing to plan for systemic shocks and resilience. But proactive support is also needed to continue encouraging collaboration in priority topic areas, this needs to include both new funding, and a return to pre-Covid tempo of delegations and partnership building events to/from China. Importantly, this should also identify a new phase of future priority countries, similarly to how the Newton Fund was a big driver of collaboration with China.

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Institutions should continue to thoroughly review their practices for risk management and compliance with relevant law and guidance as they currently exist. But they also need to be making proactive plans for future collaboration with China to provide their academic communities with confidence to engage. This needs to be done even in the likely continued absence of clearer government guidance.