Biden administration walks back federal oversight of Confucius Institutes

by Jeremy

Dive Brief:

  • The Biden administration has withdrawn a rule that would have required colleges that participate in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program to disclose if they had financial ties to a Chinese culture education program that frequently partners with U.S. institutions.
  • Political pressures surrounding the controversial Confucius Institutes escalated during the last administration, which accused China of pushing propaganda into American classrooms.
  • The Trump administration’s Education Department cracked down on colleges’ financial relationships with foreign entities.

Dive Insight:

A withering Senate subcommittee report in 2019 heightened concerns about the Confucius Institutes: the report stated that nearly 70% of colleges that received more than $250,000 in funding from Hanban — the affiliate of the Chinese Ministry of Education that manages the institutes — failed to report that information to the federal government properly.


Section 117 of the Higher Education Act mandates colleges disclose foreign donations and contracts that total $250,000 or more in a year. Under Trump, the Education Department claimed colleges often failed to follow the law and said this fall that an investigation unearthed more than $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign money.

The Trump administration continued to pressure colleges on this front in its waning days, opening investigations into six more institutions in mid-January, including Auburn University, a high-profile public institution in Alabama, and Georgia State and Florida State universities. That brought the total number of institutional probes to 19.

According to media reports, it also started pushing through the interim rule that would have forced SEVP-certified colleges to disclose contracts, partnerships, or financial transactions with Confucius Institutes or Confucius Classrooms, the K-12 branch. Several Republican lawmakers blasted the White House for revoking the policy, among them Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Trump ally Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.

During the House education committee’s discussions on the latest coronavirus rescue package Tuesday, Stefanik proposed an amendment that would bar colleges from federal relief if they work with an entity owned or controlled by the Chinese government or organized under its laws. The measure was rejected.

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