April: Letters to the Editor

Edinburgh University is dependent on Chinese money


This article is taken from the April 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Chasing the dragon

In his devastating account of how the principal of Edinburgh University, Peter Mathieson, has done little to protect some of his most distinguished academic colleagues from the reputational lynching meted out to them by highly politicised activists, Ben Sixsmith (“SLAVES TO BAD HISTORY”, MARCH) drily notes that in Mathieson’s previous role running Hong Kong University, he “faced criticism for not doing more to defend student protestors against the Beijing authorities”.

Perhaps I may be permitted to add something more about how, under Professor Mathieson’s leadership, Edinburgh University has prostrated itself to Chinese money?

There are now almost 7,600 Chinese students at Edinburgh University (and a further 450 from Hong Kong). Their numbers are rapidly catching up with the number of Scottish and English students at the university, at more than 11,000 each.

International students are a vital part of broadening the horizons of those who come to share in what should be the collegiate experience of student life. Alas, what Edinburgh now offers is a very different experience. Having reached such critical mass, Chinese students become self-contained and impervious to the wider community. 

What is Edinburgh’s aim: to remain one of Britain’s leading research universities or become an outsource campus for China? Good luck with the latter.

In this, Scotland’s SNP government is part of the problem. To fund its expensive egalitarian vision of free higher education for Scottish and EU (but, of course, not other British) students, it sets a cap on the number of these students who can study at Scottish universities. Consequently, payers of higher-rate tuition fees from outside Scotland and the EU are preferred.

The absurdity of this Scottish education policy in limiting the prospects of Scottish young people and the perverse incentive to Scottish universities to expand by becoming education providers for foreign rich kids is obvious (except to the SNP). But what is remarkable is that Edinburgh has narrowed its intake so spectacularly in prioritising students from one of the world’s most politically repressive regimes.

Professor Mathieson attributes the phenomenal growth in Chinese students being admitted to his university since he became its principal in 2018 to an expanding Chinese middle class and the United States no longer seeming such a welcoming place. This does not explain why Edinburgh has so extraordinarily outperformed other leading British universities in appealing to the Chinese over the last four years. 

Intriguingly, Mathieson’s tenure has not coincided with a comparable increase in students from other countries that are also enjoying the boon of prosperity. In size, India’s middle class is fast approaching China’s and it has far closer cultural and educational connections with Britain. Yet for every Indian currently studying at Edinburgh, there are 13 Chinese students.

It is no surprise that Mathieson’s Edinburgh University has become a woke joke — traducing the memory of the Enlightenment thinkers that made it a beacon of Western learning in order to appease today’s “decolonise the curriculum” thought police. Spitting on the traditions of European thought is easy. Now China-dependent, Edinburgh is no longer well placed to criticise a genuine authoritarian regime.

Grant MacDonald


On borrowed time

Daniel Johnson’s account of his Catholic grandmother who said of a medieval
C of E church “we will get it back one day” (
“THE JOYS OF GETTING DOWN WITH THE GRANDKIDS”, MARCH) reminds me of my own grandfather, who went one further. A devout Catholic, when visiting an Anglican church that had been Catholic before the Reformation, he would always make a generous donation before leaving, saying, “we shall want it back in good condition.”

Stephen Cox


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