International Science Collaboration and National Security


​​​Over the past two years, colleges and universities have become increasingly aware of the threat of foreign influence and interference on our campuses. Congress and the Trump administration have warned our campuses about their vulnerability to the theft of intellectual property and improper influence by foreign entities. The major federal funders of university research, such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense, along with the national security and intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, have been working to address these concerns. The most frequently cited perpetrator is China, although Russia and Iran are also mentioned.

The federal agencies publicly recognize the value of international collaboration in research and education, but they also have suggested that our universities need to take steps to address these threats, as well as ensuring compliance with existing rules. Safeguards already exist to protect research with military applications, including “dual use” technologies that can have both commercial and military applications. But some have suggested that these safeguards be expanded to include emerging technologies and sensitive fields of study. This has become a debate about international competitiveness as well as national security.

This issue—which we call “science and security”—has produced hundreds of pages of communications from think tanks, nonprofit agencies, universities, national associations, and of course the government agencies themselves. This is now a global issue, and many of these have come from outside the United States. As Samuel Stanley, former president of Stony Brook University and current president of Michigan State University, and ACE President Ted Mitchell wrote in an op-ed in The Hill, striking the balance between measures designed to protect U.S. science from exploitation versus the free exchange of ideas and talent that enables great science, is absolutely critical for U.S. leadership in innovation and discovery.

The first section of this resource page is devoted to U.S. government statements and guidance, including letters, web resources, and studies. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has focused on university faculty who have received grants from NIH while also accepting funding from foreign institutions, and not disclosing this information on grant applications. NIH and NSF have also discovered issues within the peer review system, including improperly sharing funding proposals with researchers in foreign countries.

The intelligence community has provided several case studies of inappropriate and sometimes criminal activity, and they have provided guidelines and recommendations for universities. The FBI urges institutions to form close partnerships with their regional offices, and they have cited the work of Texas A&M University, Ohio State University, and the University of Kansas as models for collaboration with the Bureau.

Because China has been frequently cited as the primary source of inappropriate behavior, a number of studies have taken a more comprehensive look at the bilateral relationship. The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations​ has taken this approach and makes the important point that faculty with expertise on China are often not consulted on issues related to engagement with China, including policies on research collaboration.

Inside and outside the United States, think tanks also have weighed in on this issue. A report from the UK expands the scope of the problem to include risk to the reputation of the university, especially when partnering with universities that are implicated in the violation of human rights. The Center for Strategic and International Studies takes a broader, more historic view, emphasizing the benefits of international research collaboration and arguing for a balanced approach.

Finally, several national higher education associations in the United States have produced guidelines and recommendations, including ACE, the Association of American Universities (AAU), and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Many of our members have issued their own statements on the science and security issue, in most cases affirming their commitment to remaining open to research collaboration across national borders.

Higher Education Associations

Letter to the President on the Confucius Institutes (262 KB PDF)
American Council on Education| July 27, 2018

Suggestions for Enhancing the Security of International Partnerships in an Era of Global Tensions (100 KB PDF)
American Council on Education | May 10, 2019

AAU/APLU Effectives Practices Survey (242 KB PDF)
Association of American Universities (AAU) and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities | April 22, 2019

Research Security Office: Resources
Texas A&M University System

Council on Governmental Relations

Foreign Gift and Contract Reporting, Section 117

Higher Education Community Letter Urging Clarification on Foreign Gift Reporting (149 KB PDF)
American Council on Education | July 12, 2019

Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, Foreign Gift and Contract Reporting: Background and Summary of Issues of Concern (157 KB PDF)
American Council on Education| August 12, 2019

AGB Federal Policy Alert: Education Department Information Collection Request: Foreign Gifts and Contracts Disclosure
Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges | October 29, 2019

Comments to the Department of Education (1 MB PDF)
American Council on Education | November 5, 2019​​​

Congress and the Administration

Letter of concern to grantees (44 KB PDF)
National Institutes of Health | August 20, 2018

Foreign Influences on Research Integrity (3 MB PDF)
National Institutes of Health | December 3, 2018

ACD Working Group for Foreign Influences on Research Integrity (601 KB PDF)
National Institutes of Health | December 2018

Responding to Undue Foreign Influence and Security Concerns on Campus (1 MB PDF)
National Institutes of Health | June 18, 2019

ACD Working Group for Foreign Influences on Research Integrity Update (2 MB PDF)
National Institutes of Health | June 19, 2019

Reminders of NIH Policies on Other Support and on Policies related to Financial Conflicts of Interest and Foreign Components
National Institutes of Health | July 10, 2019

Dear Colleague Letter: Research Protection
National Science Foundation | July 11, 2019

Letter to the United States Research Community (756 KB PDF)
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy | September 16, 2019

Science and Technology Engagement Policy (240 KB PDF)
Department of Energy| December 14, 2018

Policy on Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs (117 KB PDF)
Department of Energy | January 31, 2019

Memo on Actions for the Protection of Intellectual Property, Controlled Information, Key Personnel and Critical Technologies (342 KB PDF)
Department of Defense | March 2, 2019

Letter to Universities on Foreign Threats to Research Environment (671 KB PDF)
Department of Defense | October 10, 2019

China’s Impact on the US Education System (2 MB PDF)
United States Senate | February 27, 2019

Threats to the U.S. Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans
United States Senate | November 18, 2019

Think Tanks and Other Organizations

Policies and guidelines

MIT's Relationship to China
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | September through October​ 2018

New Review Process for “Elevated-Risk” International Proposals
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | April 3, 2019

International Relationships and Activities
Pennsylvania State University | July 30, 2019

Statements with specific reference to China

Reaffirming our support for Berkeley’s international community
University of California, Berkeley | February 21, 2019

Statement at Regents Meeting on U.S.-China research collaborations
Michigan State University | March 28, 2019

Reaffirming Commitment to Our International Community
University of California, Davis | April 22, 2019

Our Commitment to International Scholarship
University of Delaware | May 10, 2019

Message from President David Leebron to the Rice Community (50 KB PDF)
Rice University | April 22, 2019

Yale’s steadfast commitment to our international students and scholars
Yale University | May 23, 2019

UMD's commitment to international collaborations and the international community on campus (180 KB PDF)
University of Maryland | May 30, 2019

Citing U.S.–China Tensions, Zimmer Affirms Commitment to International Students
University of Chicago | June 10, 2019

A Letter to the Columbia Engineering Community
Columbia University | June 13, 2019

Statement from Senior Vice President for Enrollment and the Student Experience Dolan Evanovich Reaffirming University’s Commitment to International Community
Syracuse University | June 17, 2019

Reaffirming the intrinsic value of our international community
Washington University in St. Louis | June 24, 2019

Letter to the MIT community: Immigration is a kind of oxygen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology | June 25, 2019

The Importance of Being an Open, Global and Secure Research University
Carnegie Mellon University | August 15, 2019

No, I won’t start spying on my foreign-born students
Columbia University| August 30, 2019

Foreign Influence on UIC Research and Scholarship
University of Illinois | 2019

Statements with no specific reference to China

In support of our community
Stanford University | March 7, 2019

A Statement by the President and Provost (130 KB PDF)
Case Western University | June 11, 2019

Reaffirming Our Support for UC San Diego’s International Community
University of California, San Diego | June 13, 2019

Supporting our international scholars and students
Johns Hopkins University | July 9, 2019

Our International Community of Scholars
California Institute of Technology | July 11, 2019

In Support of Global Education
University of Pittsburg | July 22, 2019

​Other Resources

We Must Have Both
Peter McPherson and Mary Sue Coleman | August 5, 2019

Chinese Scientists and US Leadership in the Life Sciences
Biomedical Research Community | August 21, 2019

The invisible China Threat: University Intellectual Property
Samuel Stanley and Ted Mitchell | July 30, 2019