U.S. Department of Education Uncovers Vast Underreporting of Foreign Gifts and Contracts by Higher Education Institutions

October 23, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a report today detailing the massive failure of many colleges and universities to disclose more than $6.5 billion in funding and resources from foreign sources including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires institutions of higher education to transparently report foreign gifts and contracts, yet over the course of the last year, the Department has uncovered billions in unreported financial ties.

“The threat of improper foreign influence in higher education is real. Our action today ensures that America’s students, educators, and taxpayers can follow the money,” said Secretary DeVos. “Transparency in foreign funding of higher education is not just something I think is a good thing; it’s the law. For too long, enforcement of that law was lax, but not anymore.”

After four decades of pervasive noncompliance by colleges and universities, this landmark report produced by the Office of the General Counsel empowers American taxpayers with the transparency they deserve about the relationships between taxpayer-supported institutions and foreign actors, who may not have the best interests of students at heart. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations described foreign spending on U.S. schools as “a black hole” because colleges and universities “routinely” fail to comply with the law, and reported foreign money can come with strings attached that might compromise academic freedom.

Major findings of the report include:

  • Two universities failed to accurately account for foreign funding of their campuses in Doha,Qatar, which are funded in part by the Qatari government. The Qatari Foundation exerted its financial influence to stifle free speech.
  • Huawei, the Chinese technology giant supported by the Chinese Communist Party, had financial ties to nearly all the investigated institutions. Huawei targets its higher education funding to issues important to national security such as nuclear science, robotics, and online cloud services.
  • Two Chinese companies are working with one U.S. university on a research project involving crowd surveillance and predictive behavior technology, which the Chinese government could potentially harness for nefarious purposes.
  • A large donation by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to Georgetown University empowered the Saudis to push a particular ideologically-driven narrative through the teaching and learning done on specific topics relevant to the Middle East.
  • One university accepted a $25,000 sponsorship from Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, a cybersecurity company with suspected ties to the Russian government, to host a cybersecurity conference.
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