Australian task force to prevent foreign meddling at universities

Move comes amid concerns that China's influence at Australia's education centres is growing.

    Australian Education Minister Dan Tehan speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra announcing the new university task force [Rohan Thomson/AP]
    Australian Education Minister Dan Tehan speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra announcing the new university task force [Rohan Thomson/AP]

    Australia has formed a task force to crack down on attempts by foreign governments to meddle in Australian universities, its education minister has announced.

    Wednesday's announcement comes amid concerns that China's influence at Australia's universities, where Chinese students are by far the largest group of foreign students, has been growing.

    The task force includes a cyber-security working group that will better protect university networks against unauthorised access and damage.

    Education Minister Dan Tehan said in a speech the task force would comprise half university staff and half government agency officials.

    "Our government is taking action to provide clarity at the intersection of national security, research, collaboration and a university's autonomy," Tehan said.

    Tehan stressed the need to strike a balance between the "national interest" and universities' "freedom to pursue research and collaboration that expands our knowledge and leads to life-improving innovations".

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    China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang hit back on Wednesday that talk of "so-called Chinese infiltration of Australia and related statements are completely baseless and made out of ill intention".

    "Politicising educational cooperation and setting obstacles will do no good to either side and will not gain any popularity," he added.

    Tensions between China and Australia have escalated in recent months with the detention of Australian author Yang Hengjun by the Chinese government, which charged him with espionage, an offence that carries the death penalty.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies