Published 24/04/2023

Are Confucius Institutes legal? is a research project conducted by UK-China Transparency. The project consists of the publication and analysis of a range of primary source data about British universities’ Confucius Institutes. The data is fully searchable and hosted on UK-China Transparency’s digital library.

The data indicates that British universities may be operating Confucius Institutes illegally:

  1. Staff at Confucius Institutes are recruited in a highly discriminatory way that is illegal under UK law.
  2. Staff are being recruited based on their ability to enforce ‘CCP discipline’ in the UK and are obliged to undermine free speech and to conduct harassment on command.
  3. Universities are systematically enabling this in a way that breaches their legal obligations to staff and students.
  4. The Home Office is systematically enabling this by means of an unlawful dedicated visa route which makes the employment status of Confucius Institute staff unclear.

UPDATE 18/05/2023:

New legislation has been passed that solidifies universities’ legal obligations regarding free speech and academic freedom. This is the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act. The new law also empowers the Office for Students, which regulates universities in England, to sanction universities that do not meet these obligations; and requires the Office for Students to evaluate the threat to free speech from overseas funding (such as in the case of Confucius Institutes)


The United Kingdom is home to 30 Confucius Institutes. Each Institute is based in a British university and is a partnership between that British university, a Chinese entity (usually a university), and the Chinese government.

An Institute is typically based on campus in a physical location, sometimes a dedicated building. Its staff typically include administrative staff from the UK, Chinese language teachers from China, a ‘British co-director’ recruited by the British university, and a ‘Chinese co-director’ recruited by the Chinese partner entity but based in the British university at the Confucius Institute.

The purpose of the Confucius Institute programme is to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) interests in British higher education and society more broadly. These interests include political and business networking, the promotion of scientific collaboration, propaganda and activities intended to shape how China and the CCP are viewed and studied academically, the teaching of Mandarin, and the extension of CCP influence on campus.


Sam Dunning

Anson Kwong