A top Dutch university has shelved plans to open a satellite campus in China after resistance from council members, reportedly due to concerns over restrictions on academic freedom. Groningen University’s executive board on Monday “decided to cancel plans” to open a branch in Yantai in eastern Shandong province, after failing to win majority approval from the university’s council, a spokesman said. “The board regrets this, but there is insufficient support within the council for this proposal,” Gernant Deekens said after both the university’s largest personnel and student representative groups said they would blackball the plan. Deekens rebuffed Dutch media reports citing concerns over possible meddling by Beijing after it became known in November that the campus’s most senior official would be appointed from the ranks of China’s Communist Party. “Academic freedom is a fundamental principle to us and we have secured concrete agreements with our Chinese partners and the Chinese government in which it is guaranteed,” he said. However, others said it had been an issue. How a compulsory Mandarin course caused chaos at Hong Kong Baptist University “There are concerns about how much academic freedom students will have on the campus,” said Tariq Sewbaransingh, chairman of the countrywide Dutch Student Union, which has a branch at Groningen University. “One of the main concerns, but not the only one, is that the person in charge on the campus would be an official of China’s Communist Party,” he said. Other Dutch news reports cited similar fears of possible interference on the campus where an academic programme was set to start in 2019, in conjunction with the China Agricultural University (CAU). The concerns even reached the Dutch parliament, with Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven calling the media reports that a Communist Party member would be appointed to a top position “alarming.” Van Engelshoven – who has the final say in approving the plans – said there are “many requirements before permission can be given for such a move.” “One of the criteria is academic freedom. Seeing that I attach great value to this principle, I’ll closely scrutinise any request” by Groningen University, she told MPs in a letter earlier this month. In 2015, Groningen, ranked among the top 10 universities in the Netherlands and top 100 worldwide, signed an agreement with the CAU and the city of Yangtai to establish a branch campus. The deal was signed in the presence of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Dutch King Willem-Alexander. University of Groningen to open campus in Yantai For now, the university will not forward the proposal to the minister, Deekens said. “We will meet our Chinese partners soon to see in which other way we can possibly collaborate, but how exactly is not clear yet,” he added.