Following a long standing partnership with Chinese tech corporation Huawei, the University of Waterloo announced this month that it will end all research initiatives with the company. The story was first reported by the Toronto Star and is sparking the attention of news outlets across the region.
In May 2022, the Canadian government banned Huawei from operating in the country’s 5G networks, citing national security concerns. Now the University of Waterloo is also distancing itself from the company.
The research partnership between UW and Huawei began in 2016. According to the UW website, the two parties agreed “on a strategic research partnership that will serve as a framework for existing and future investment.” At the time of agreement, the university hoped the partnership would create future opportunities for research.
However, the university has since cut ties with Huawei. Charmaine Dean, UW vice president of research, provided information about the choice in a statement. “This decision is part of our wider efforts partnered with multiple levels of government to safeguard scientific research at Waterloo,” she wrote.
“We are disentangling ourselves from this company,” Dean told the Toronto Star. “We will be completely extricated through various legal mechanisms, exit clauses, and a variety of processes.”
As one of Canada’s top research institutions, the move is significant for UW. Back in January the school was named research university of the year by Research Infosource Inc. for the 15th consecutive time. With this reputation, many suspect research departments at other universities will be influenced by the decision.
Already the University of Toronto and McGill University have made statements regarding Huawei. “This past winter, McGill made an important decision not to develop further contracts with Huawei,” a spokesperson for the university told the Toronto Star.
According to Dean, the partnership is scheduled to conclude before the end of the year. At that point, researchers at the university will have to rely on other sources of funding. As Huawei had originally planned to invest millions of dollars in research initiatives, some at the university are concerned about funding moving forward.
UW is aware that researchers will be in a tricky position moving forward, and that this decision will affect the operation of future initiatives. Some of the research areas affected include 5G communications, cloud computing, data management, and data analytics.
The operation of the university’s 2018 research lab, which was created in part by funding from Huawei, will also feel changes in the coming months. Students at the university hoping to become involved in research will want to keep an eye on how operations begin to adapt in the near future. In the meantime, researchers will be able to wrap up current projects as the agreement comes to a close.
In an attempt to decrease concerns about finances, UW called on Canadian businesses to assist with future funding. Although the partnership will not end immediately, Dean wrote that institutions should not hesitate to step forward. “Now is a time for Canadian businesses and governments to seize the opportunity to help us ensure that our talent and innovation pipeline remains productive now and in the future,” she stated.
Following the initial news reports on May 4, Innovation Minister François-Phillipe Champagne stated his support for the decision. “Glad to see that the University of Waterloo is taking the necessary steps to protect its research,” he said. He also added that “research security is the responsibility of all partners involved.”
On the same day, Ontario premier Doug Ford also came out in support of the university’s choice to distance itself from Huawei. Speaking with reporters in Cambridge, Ont., he expressed his views on the situation.
“I don’t like meddling in the middle of their decisions, I don’t dictate to the universities — if that was their decision, you know something, I’ll support their decision.”
As for concerns about funding, Ford did not appear to be worried. “We can make up those millions of dollars on the other end.”