ANALYSIS: A look at universities’ foreign contribution filings

In June 2020, the Education Department implemented a new portal for reporting foreign contributions. As a result, the Department observed higher levels of reporting, not sure if this is a result including sixty 'new filers.'

Data collected by the US Department of Education show that during 2021, colleges and universities amassed a total of $1.3 billion in contracts and gifts from foreign sources, including $337 million from foreign governments. 

The U.S. Department of Education has expressed concern about foreign nations using funds to influence American institutions of higher education. “For at least two decades,” the Department said in a report published last October, “the industry has been on direct notice that at least some of these foreign sources are hostile to the United States and are targeting their investments (i.e., “gifts” and “contracts”) to project soft power, steal sensitive and proprietary research, and spread propaganda.”

Campus Reform has covered how China uses Confucius Institutes to exert influence on American schools. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the program as “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”

[RELATED: Analysis finds that Penn raises 26% of its foreign contributions from Chinese sources]

Indeed, in 2020 a US Department of Education investigation found that many well-funded schools in the U.S. failed to properly disclose ties to nations like China, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. These included schools such as Cornell, which failed to disclose $760 million in funds from Qatar, Texas A&M University, and Georgetown. This makes it sound like Cornell was getting money from TAM & GTWN

In June 2020, the Education Department has implemented a new portal for reporting foreign contributions. As a result, the Department has observed higher levels of reporting, not sure if this is a result including sixty “new filers.” 

All of the following data is self-reported, and government rules only require contracts over $250,000 to be reported. The Department of Education publishes the reports it receives from colleges, and as of press time, it has published reports filed up to Oct. 5, 2021. Federal law requires institutions to report foreign funding when such funding from any single country tops $250,000 in a calendar year. Smaller donations that do not meet the threshold need not be reported.

Additionally, schools are not forced to disclose the purpose of said funds. The reports do not necessarily mean that the funds were transferred during that year, as some contracts span multiple years. 

The largest foreign source of funds in 2021 was Qatar, with U.S. schools reporting over $300 million in new contracts. Of that, nearly $75 million came from the Qatari government itself. 

Cornell received the largest share, receiving contracts worth a total $138.7 million. Other schools include Texas A&M, which totaled $85 million, Carnegie Mellon at $74 million, Bard College at $4 million, and Stanford at $1.5 million. 

China reportedly established $120 million in new contracts across thirty-seven schools, $31 million of which originated from official government sources. The top schools receiving new contracts with China were the University of Houston, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. China also created new contracts with schools including Harvard, Duke, and Rutgers. 

[RELATED: More countries take action against Confucius Institutes. Will Biden do the same?]

The third largest source of foreign funding was Saudi Arabia, with new contracts across 97 schools amounting to almost $120 million. Official Saudi Arabian government sources accounted for $87 million of the contracts. The University of Southern California reported $7 million in new contracts, while Arizona State University and The Pennsylvania State University both reported around $6.5 million.

Other leading countries to fund U.S. schools included Switzerland, contributing over $100 million in new contracts, England with $94 million, Japan with $73 million, and Kuwait with $63 million. 

In total, Cornell University reported collecting the most in new contracts at $143 million. Its partners included Qatar, India, and China. Texas A&M University reported $87 million in new contracts, and Carnegie Mellon reported $85 million.

Other top schools included Harvard University ($66,782,226), Stanford University ($63,927,653), Princeton University ($60,509,600), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($53,031,878), Rutgers ($44,303,484), and The University of Chicago ($33,476,638).

A handful of schools have already begun to report contracts expected to begin during 2022. For example, Harvard has already reported almost $1 million in contracts slated to begin next year, and the University of Pennsylvania reported a $500,000 contract from China. 


Angela Morabito contributed to this reporting. Follow @AngelaLMorabito Twitter.