A Scottish university has teamed up with a Chinese cloud computing giant in a bid to strengthen its research capabilities and talent development through new technology.

The University of Edinburgh signed a contract with Tencent Cloud, a Shenzhen-based organisation which provides cloud products and services to companies and enterprises globally, earlier this month.

It is hoped the new partnership will support the university’s research and education programmes through provided cloud credits – the unit of measurement required to perform certain tasks, such as running a simulation in a cloud environment – and technical engagement.

Dr Tiejun Ma, programme director of master of science advanced technology for financial computing at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The need for technological advancement and further development on digital skills and knowledge has significantly grown in the finance industry in recent years.

“The University of Edinburgh’s business informatics cluster is privileged to be benefiting from the reliable and high-quality services of Tencent Cloud, which opens more doors and possibilities for us to provide better and more technologically advanced higher education services in Scotland.”

The business informatics cluster brings together academic expertise from the School of Informatics and Business School at the University of Edinburgh.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) – a type of business agreement – between the two parties will allow Tencent Cloud to collaborate with the university in its academic programmes by way of technical support and provision of resources.

For instance, the university will be given access to Tencent Cloud’s ‘suite of offerings’, meaning it will be able to utilise cloud credits in its research and education initiatives.

Tencent Cloud and the university will also collaborate on both digital and classroom training to develop further cloud skills, allowing students to learn online ‘at their own pace’ or through in-person classes. 

Additionally, the cloud service will help the institute with training and enhancement of cloud skills and products, built by experts at Tencent Cloud and ‘updated regularly to keep pace with the latest cloud services.’

And knowledge exchange between students and researchers on Tencent Cloud’s artificial intelligence team will be facilitated, allowing for collaborations on research and development projects.

Poshu Yeung, senior vice president of Tencent Cloud International, said: “The signing of the MoU to support the University of Edinburgh in its technological development underlines Tencent Cloud’s commitment to the education segment.

“We look forward to providing the university with more resources for education purposes and to nurturing talents in the field, as well as boosting its tech and knowledge support. This initiative also demonstrates the company’s mission of ‘Value for Users, Tech for Good’, centred on the values of integrity, proactivity, collaboration and creativity.”

This is not the university’s first collaboration with a Chinese tech company. In 2017 it opened a joint lab with Huawei, a leading global telecommunications company, to advance expertise in data science.

There has since been growing security concerns about China which has led many countries in the West, including the US, Australia and New Zealand, to end business with Huawei.

In July last year, the UK government banned buying new Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December 2020, following a meeting with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against the telecommunications vendor.

The digital secretary Oliver Dowden also announced that Huawei will be completely removed from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027.

This decision came after claims were made by Washington that Huawei posed a national security threat. There was a concern that the Chinese company could potentially spy or disrupt communications during any future conflict by controlling the tech central to UK networks.

Technical experts at the NCSC reviewed the consequences of the US sanctions, made in May 2020, and concluded that the new restrictions make it impossible to guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future.

The University of Edinburgh also works with the Chinese government-backed body, Confucius Institutes (CI), which run educational partnerships between China and universities and colleges around the world.

An “award winning” CI for Scotland at the University of Edinburgh opened in 2007 as a national centre to “promote educational, economic, and cultural ties between Scotland and China.”

The CI has been accused by critics in recent times of allowing China to spread propaganda under the guise of teaching, spy on students and interfere with free speech.

A Human Rights Watch 2019 report on China said: “Confucius Institutes are extensions of the Chinese government that censor certain topics and perspectives in course materials on political grounds, and use hiring practices that take political loyalty into consideration.”

This led several universities around the world to shut down their programmes with the CI.

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said: “Edinburgh is a university renowned internationally for the breadth and quality of its research and teaching. We are a highly collaborative university with more than 4,000 live research partnerships across 65 countries.

“The University’s ongoing partnership with Huawei enables our researchers to explore new technologies in data management and information technology.”  

He added: “As with any research partnership that we undertake, this has undergone a rigorous process of due diligence and is the result of long-term collaboration between experts at the University of Edinburgh and Huawei.”