Bills Targeting China Could Impact Higher Education Research and Foreign Gift Reporting
April 26, 2021

The Senate has moved forward on several fronts over the past few weeks in response to years of growing and bipartisan concerns over the influence of China, with a range of new initiatives aimed at helping the United States be more economically and technologically competitive and addressing perceived holes in U.S. systems for securing research.

Some parts of the bills would be beneficial to campuses and students—especially the funding for research and efforts on STEM—while other provisions would be problematic, expensive, and time-consuming in terms of process and reporting requirements. The issue of China and malign foreign influence is the rare area that has bipartisan support in the evenly divided Senate, so some combination of bills will likely be signed into law.

Endless Frontier Act: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), along with Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI), unveiled an updated version of the bipartisan Endless Frontier Act on April 21. This legislation, which could form the core of the package of bills to contend with China, would create a new directorate of technology and innovation at the National Science Foundation and authorize approximately $100 billion in new spending for it. The bill would also authorize $10 billion at the Department of Commerce to create regional technology hubs, although a separate appropriation would be needed before the funds are released.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will mark up the legislation on Wednesday.

Strategic Competition Act of 2021: Also on April 21, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 21-1 to pass the Strategic Competition Act, another sweeping and bipartisan bill that addresses economic competition with China along with provisions targeting human rights and democratic development.

The higher education community is concerned about a particularly problematic provision that would require the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to approve in advance foreign gifts and contracts to colleges and universities over $1 million. The bill also would require Section 117 foreign gift and contract reports to be shared with the treasury secretary as well as the secretary of education. (Read the letter sent to the committee by ACE, AAU, APLU, and AAMC expressing opposition to this provision here.) The legislation will now go to the full Senate for debate and a vote, either alone or as part of a larger package.

Safeguarding American Innovation Act: This bill was introduced last year as S. 3997 by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), and a revised draft of the measure has been circulating and will likely be introduced at some point soon, perhaps as part of this larger legislative package.

Among the higher education community’s primary concerns:

  • One section would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide broad new authority to the Department of State to deny visas to foreign students and scholars, even if they are coming to work on fundamental research intended to be openly published and broadly disseminated. This language is overly broad in its scope and provides excessive new authority to the Department of State that could keep out talented foreign students and scholars.
  • Another section would expand the administrative hurdles for educational and cultural exchange (J-1) programs and potentially restrict participation of visiting international students and scholars in fundamental research activities, open lectures and related course work.
  • Also included is language that would modify Section 117 of the Higher Education Act to lower the institutional reporting threshold for foreign gifts and contracts from $250,000 to $50,000. Institutions want to fully comply with Section 117 and have been working with the Department of Education to clarify current reporting requirements, but ACE and other associations support language to amend Section 117 contained in the America LEADS Act, which provides a more reasonable approach.​