Institutions seek guidance over links to Chinese company but are told that it is not their role to start a ‘new Cold War’.
With Huawei set to spend $20 billion (£15.7 billion) a year on research and development globally, the Chinese technology giant is now a growing presence in university research.
The Shenzhen-based company, which sold more smartphones than Apple in 2018 (about 200 million, behind only Samsung), has partnered with some 300 universities worldwide on more than 1,200 projects. Its Huawei Innovation Research Programme funds dozens of scholarships and research projects each year, inviting researchers to apply for grants of up to $70,000.
In the UK, the Chinese company has worked with more than 20 universities on more than 100 projects over the past five years. In November 2017, Huawei agreed to invest £25 million with BT in a new research base at the University of Cambridge – its largest investment in a UK higher education institution – and it has also funded a £5 million project at the University of Surrey into developing the 5G mobile communications network.
Elsewhere, Huawei has substantial links with universities in Hong Kong, Singapore and mainland China, and it spent a “modest” $10 million on research at US universities in 2017, according to a Financial Times editorial by its chairman, Eric Xu, in July 2018.
But in recent months Huawei has also found itself the subject of sustained debate about its links to the Beijing government, with a number of Western governments raising concerns about using Chinese-designed technology and communications platforms. This includes the UK, where the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, has voiced “deep concerns” about Huawei’s involvement in updating the UK’s mobile communications network to superfast 5G, echoing similar concerns in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The spotlight on the company intensified last month when its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou – the daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei – was arrested in Canada, where she remains pending an extradition request by the US on suspicion of breaching American sanctions on Iran. The company has denied any wrongdoing and has also denied that it is controlled by the Chinese state.
Read more : Jack Grove : Times Higher Education : 17 January 2019