As part of the ongoing science and security questions about the influence of foreign governments, specifically China, Congress has been looking closely at a section of the Higher Education Act (HEA) on foreign gifts and contracts and how colleges and universities comply with the requirement.
ACE, along with five other presidential higher education associations, sent a letter Jan. 18 to the Department of Education seeking clarification on Sec. 117 of the HEA, which outlines reporting requirements on foreign gifts and contracts for institutions of higher education.
The letter seeks clarification in four areas: the dollar amount that triggers the reporting requirement, the specific definition of an institution of higher education, when it is sufficient to report the country or the individual foreign entity, and how institutions should submit corrections or amendments to previous reports.
Congressional members from both parties have expressed heightened concern in recent months over efforts by China to steal intellectual property, commit cyberespionage, and influence U.S. research and development. Both the House and Senate last year held hearings to look at possible vulnerabilities at the nation’s colleges and universities to this economic and industrial espionage. Much of the concern has focused on the role of Confucius Institutes on U.S. campuses: As Inside Higher Ed has reported, at least 10 of these Chinese government-funded centers of Chinese language and cultural education have closed or announced plans to close over the past year under pressure from Washington.
ACE joined the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council on Government Relations in submitting a joint statement to the House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittees before their April hearing, emphasizing the importance research universities place on security and the working relationship between universities and federal agencies such as the departments of Homeland Security and Commerce in addressing these issues.
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars released a report last September on China’s relationships with U.S. higher education. “A Preliminary Study of PRC Political Influence and Interference Activities in American Higher Education” found that the challenges posed by the Chinese government’s “influence activities” at U.S. universities are real, but that institutions are well-equipped to manage these challenges, especially if they work collaboratively with each other and with federal agencies charged with protecting national security.