University of Illinois the latest US school to end research collaboration with China’s Huawei

Meng Jing
University of Illinois the latest US school to end research collaboration with China’s Huawei

The University of Illinois is the latest US educational institution to end research collaboration with Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies amid federal investigations into the company and its alleged potential security risks.

The decision was announced last week via email to faculty and staff in the College of Engineering, which ranked 10th in the US News and World Report’s list of top American engineering schools.

“Effective immediately, the university will not be accepting any new grants, contracts or gifts from Huawei or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates,” engineering dean Rashid Bashir and interim vice chancellor for research Susan A Martinis wrote in an email obtained by the South China Morning Post.

“Faculty members with existing agreements have been notified of this decision, and they will be allowed to spend down their existing funding balances to complete the originally contracted scope of work. New agreements or proposals will not be approved or accepted by the university.”

The University of Illinois is the latest in a growing number of American schools that have ended collaboration with Huawei since the US government brought criminal charges against the company earlier this year, accusing it of intellectual property theft and violating US sanctions on Iran.

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Stanford University, University of California at San Diego and its flagship Berkeley campus, University of Minnesota, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also suspended research ties with the Chinese company. With University of Illinois joining the list, four of the top 10 engineering schools in the US have shunned Huawei.

The engineering college’s decision on Huawei was first reported by central Illinois newspaper the News-Gazette, which quoted engineering department spokesman Bill Bell saying the move would not impact too many school researchers.

“There are 11 researchers out of about 3,000 faculty who have sponsored research awards from Huawei,” Bell told the newspaper.

Queries sent to Bell during office hours were not answered. Huawei said it had no comment when reached on Tuesday.

It is not known whether Huawei will seek more research collaborations with Chinese institutions given the current geopolitical climate. Huawei is among the world’s top research and development spenders with an investment of US$13.1 billion in various research and development projects in 2018. Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft, the two biggest US research and development spenders, allocated US$15.4 billion and US$14.1 billion respectively last year, according to the 2018 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard.

Huawei spends US$300 million annually on university funding and partnerships, but does not have exclusive ownership of the findings of the research it supports because “science is borderless”, Eric Xu, a rotating chairman of Huawei, wrote in the Financial Times in July last year.

Starting late last year, Huawei has come under mounting scrutiny from international governments, prompting universities overseas to review their research collaborations with the Shenzhen-based company. Several countries have raised security concerns over the company’s devices and network equipment, despite Huawei repeatedly reassuring them that it does not and never will act as a back door for spying by the Chinese government.

Additional reporting by Li Tao.

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