Bill would give federal agencies new oversight of colleges’ foreign dealings

by Jeremy

Dive Brief:

  • Federal agencies would have more power to review colleges’ gifts and contracts from outside the U.S. under a bipartisan legislative package to combat foreign influence.
  • The legislation would give a federal oversight body the ability to scrutinize foreign financial transactions with colleges of $1 million or more if they relate to research or development of “critical technologies” and provide “access to any material nonpublic technical information.”
  • Higher education lobbying groups oppose the proposal, arguing it would damage research opportunities and economic competitiveness in the U.S.

Dive Insight:

The proposed legislation, called the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, would expand the influence of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., also known as CFIUS. This interagency group examines foreign transactions involving American businesses. The U.S. Treasury Secretary chairs it.

In addition to enabling CFIUS to review colleges’ foreign gifts and contracts worth $1 million or more that deal with technology research and production, the bill would also open the panel’s scrutiny to those that carry conditions, such as those that endow a professorship. The amounts in question could be a one-off or a combined $1 million or more received over two years from the same source and for the same purpose.

CFIUS would need to determine whether there were “malign foreign influence or espionage activities” aimed at extracting from colleges “research and development methods or secrets related to critical technologies.”

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