Scottish Government spends £5m on controversial Chinese teaching hubs
The Scottish Government has given more than £5m to the body behind controversial Chinese language and culture hubs in schools since 2015, figures confirm.
The Confucius Institute for Scotland's Schools aims to "engage pupils with Chinese language learning and culture" and has a presence in schools around the country through Confucius Classroom Hubs.
Shirley-Anne Somerville last month defended the hubs against concerns about influence from the Chinese government over education in Scotland. These concerns include censorship of politically-sensitive materials on topics like Uighur persecution, and potential surveillance of students.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has raised fears about the access given to Xi Jinping's government and the SNP's Westminster defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald last year published a report on "disinformation in public life" which said China's overseas education outreach programme is a "key actor in the so-called disinformation war" which has made "attempts to distort domestic political sentiment".
He further called on the Scottish Government to commission an independent audit into the reach of the Confucius Institute and other "foreign state-backed bodies".
Now the Scottish Government has revealed that it has spent £5.3m on the Confucius Institute for Scotland's Schools since 2015-16.
Grant funding stood at £754,000 per annum until 2019-20, when the figure dropped to £678,600. It has reduced every year since then to £520,000 in 2022-23. The total comes to £5.33m.
Visiting Stirling High last month, which is amongst schools with a Confucius hub, Somerville said that "the Chinese government, and anyone else outside Scottish education, do not have a view or a say on how Confucius Institutes are run in our schools".
Responding to that, Conservative MP Andrew Bowie, a founder member of the Chinese Research Group of Tories MPs, told Holyrood that Somerville's comments were "unbelievable naive and frankly dangerous". He said: "Everything the Chinese Communist Party does seeks to promote its propaganda."
Responding to a Freedom of Information inquiry, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: "I can confirm that the Scottish Government has received no money from the Chinese government, Chinese ministry of education or Chinese universities in relation to the Confucius Institute for Scotland's Schools since 2015-16."
The Scottish Government said: “There is no interference in what is taught in Scottish schools. This is decided solely by Scottish councils, schools and our teachers. Schools are supported in delivering this by Scotland’s National Centre for Languages and its sister organisation Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools (CISS).
A government spokesperson added that "educational materials and resources provided by CISS are prepared in line with the principles of Curriculum for Excellence".
A spokesperson for the University of Strathclyde, which houses CISS, said: "As well as creating opportunities and widening access for learners in our schools, CISS enables the wider community to develop knowledge, skills and cultural awareness.
"The Institute also facilitates educational and cultural exchange between China and Scotland so that the two countries may continue to share expertise and learn from each other."