Senate backs off giving federal agencies oversight of colleges’ big foreign gifts

Dive Brief:

  • Senate lawmakers seemingly backed off a proposal that would have given a federal oversight body the power to scrutinize large gifts and contracts between U.S. colleges and foreign entities. 

  • The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known as CFIUS, reviews foreign transactions involving American businesses. The bill would have broadened the work of that panel to examine colleges’ foreign dealings.

  • However, a new legislative package explicitly bars CFIUS from vetting these transactions. Higher education’s top lobbying group objected to the initial measure. 

Dive Insight:

The move to drop CFIUS oversight of colleges’ foreign financial dealings stemmed from a clash between two prominent Senate committees, according to Axios, which first reported the change. CFIUS also did not think it had the capacity to review a wide number of foregin gifts and contracts, according to the publication.

The proposal to expand CFIUS’ role is included in draft legislation. It would have granted the interagency committee the power to assess colleges’ foreign gifts and contracts worth $1 million or more that deal with technology research and development, as well as those that carry certain conditions, such as an endowed professorship. 

A new legislative package designed to boost the country’s research competitiveness and combat foreign influence directly prohibits the panel from conducting such reviews, however.

The new bill still tightens colleges’ reporting requirements of foreign gifts, lowering the amount they would have to report from a single foreign source from $250,000 to $50,000 in a year. The American Council on Education opposes this and other recently proposed mandates that would increase oversight of foreign gift reporting, it told lawmakers recently.

ACE also argued that the original proposal would have damaged institutions’ research opportunities. 

The organization did not provide a comment on the change by publication time Monday.

The Trump administration stepped up oversight of colleges’ foreign financial ties, opening investigations into 19 high-profile universities and alleging they failed to report billions of dollars from outside the U.S. 

ACE has said it supports working with the U.S. Department of Education on regulations to govern foreign gift reporting.

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