With a Chinese university project in Hungary drawing controversy over a lack of transparency and concerns about academic freedom, Beijing's influence in higher education in neighboring Serbia continues to grow. A strategic agreement signed between Hungary and Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University in April made international headlines and sparked a backlash at home.
The decision to build a Budapest campus by 2024 using a $1.5 billion loan from a Chinese bank put a spotlight on Prime Minister Viktor Orban's close ties to Beijing and raised concerns about the long-term impact of such a project on the country's higher-education system. But in Serbia -- where Beijing enjoys a close relationship with President Aleksandar Vucic and has been steadily deepening its ties over the last two decades -- growing cooperation with Chinese universities and schools continues unabated.
Currently, three Serbian universities -- the University of Belgrade, the University of Novi Sad, and the University of Nis -- have signed a cooperation agreement with Shanghai's Jiao Tong University, opening the door to deepening educational and cultural bonds between Serbia and China. The agreements, which were signed in 2018, set up broad terms for cooperation that can grow deeper over time. They include new student and staff exchanges and scholarships, as well as growing Chinese financial support and Chinese-language classes.