Billions in foreign aid to universities, colleges undetected

The University Times

COLLEGES AND universities failed to disclose more than $6.5 billion in funding from foreign countries, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, a new federal report shows.

“The threat of improper foreign influence in higher education is real,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, describing a scenario in which department officials are playing catch-up on four decades of pervasive noncompliance by colleges and universities.

“Transparency in foreign funding of higher education is not just something I think is a good thing; it’s the law,” she said. “For too long, enforcement of that law was lax, but not anymore.”

Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires institutions of higher education to report foreign gifts and contracts.

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Earlier this year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations described foreign spending on U.S. schools as “a black hole” due to colleges and universities “routinely” failing to comply with the law, and it raised concerns about the potential strings attached to foreign money that might compromise the institutions.

The Education Department established an online portal in June to make it easier for schools to report foreign gifts and contracts valued at more than $250,000.

The portal has recorded more than 7,000 transactions totaling roughly $3.8 billion in the four months since it’s been available. According to department officials, about 60 of the colleges and universities that filed through the portal had not submitted any reports between 1986 and June 2020. Their disclosures alone totaled more than $350 million during the July reporting period.

Among some of the report’s most concerning revelations is that every school investigated has received funds from Huawei, the Chinese technology giant. The company had targeted the majority of its higher education funding on issues important to national security, according to the report, including nuclear science, robotics and online cloud services.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government banned Huawei telecommunication equipment from being used in new 5G networks, citing major national security concerns. Earlier this summer, the U.K. did the same.

Another example that concerned department officials: Two Chinese companies are working with one university on a research project involving crowd surveillance and predictive behavior technology.

In addition, the report concluded that 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.”

Also suspect, the report surfaced a $25,000 sponsorship to one university from Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, a cybersecurity company with suspected ties to the Russian government, to host a cybersecurity conference.

The University Times

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