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The University of Waterloo says it will end its research partnership with Huawei.Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press

Scientists and graduate students at the University of Waterloo are hoping to find new financing for projects funded by Huawei, after the school announced this week that it would wind down its relationship with the Chinese technology giant.

Huawei has provided millions of dollars in funding to scientists at the university for dozens of projects related to telecommunications and other fields. The university said Wednesday that the relationship had become incompatible with national-security rules. It has said it expects to end its existing agreements by the end of the year.

Canadian national-security agencies have warned universities for years about the dangers of research partnerships that involve certain types of sensitive technologies. They have asked universities to be mindful of those risks, and many federal research funding grants are now contingent on national-security assessments.

Huawei has been a particular worry because of concerns that Beijing could use the company’s products for spying. The federal government barred Huawei equipment from Canada’s 5G wireless network last year, following the lead of the United States and other close allies.

Tamer Ozsu, founding director of the university’s Waterloo-Huawei Joint Innovation Lab, said he is in discussions with the school about what will become of the students involved with the projects. He said he has been told the university is looking for alternative funding sources. But finding money for industrial research and development in Canada is difficult, he added.

In a statement, university spokesperson Rebecca Elming said Waterloo’s graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are being “incrementally and thoughtfully moved to other sources of support.”

There are currently 26 active projects connected to Huawei funding at the university, Prof. Ozsu said, with 128 graduate students and post-doctoral researchers attached.

“Many are already quite frazzled by the news and what their future will be,” he said. “I am working with the university administration and the supervising faculty members to ensure the students are taken care of.”

Prof. Ozsu said he has heard the federal and provincial governments have been contacted, as well as companies in the Canadian IT industry. But he is skeptical of the prospects of another company taking on the funding.

“The University will always honour the funding commitments we have made to our students,” Ms. Elming said. “We are always engaged with our partners in governments and industry about how best to support Canada’s innovation pipeline and the next generation of talent.”

Laurie Bouchard, a spokesperson for federal Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister François-Philippe Champagne, said the government has made clear to universities that it expects them to enter partnerships only with trusted and reliable companies.

Huawei has partnered with as many as 20 Canadian universities on various projects for which it provided funding. Like Waterloo, many of them are distancing themselves from the company.

McGill University said this week that it recently “made an important decision not to develop further contracts with Huawei.”

The University of Toronto said it decided in April to stop new research engagements with Huawei, which it said includes any new agreements, extensions or renewals.

Carleton University said its last research project with Huawei concluded in June, 2022, and that it has no active agreements or partnerships with the company. The Universities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan said they have no active partnerships with Huawei.

The University of Calgary has three active partnerships with Huawei that will expire either this year or next.

A Huawei spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Prof. Ozsu said it’s still not clear when and how Waterloo’s connection with Huawei will be severed. He said this makes it difficult to gauge the extent of the financial impact of the decision.

Funds for some of the projects have already been transferred to project accounts, he said. If the projects are allowed to run until they’re completed, then the funds would be spent on student support and additional financing wouldn’t be required.

Ms. Elming said the University of Waterloo’s announcement underscores the need for domestic investment in research universities from both government and industry.

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