The US Department of Education has opened investigations into foreign funding at Georgetown University and Texas A&M University as part of a broader push to monitor international money flowing to US colleges.
Both universities are being ordered to disclose years of financial records amid concerns they have not fully reported their foreign gifts and contracts to the federal government, according to letters sent to the schools on Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press.
The inquiries are part of a broader campaign to scrutinize foreign funding going to universities and to improve reporting by schools, a US administration official familiar with the effort said.
More schools will probably face questioning as federal officials focus on an issue they see as crucial to transparency and national security, said the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Federal law requires US colleges to report contracts and donations from foreign sources totaling US$250,000 or more, but past filings from Georgetown and Texas A&M “may not fully capture” that information, according to the letters.
As an example, department officials wrote, both schools should have reported funding related to branch campuses they operate in Qatar, an oil-rich nation in the Middle East that hosts the outposts of several US colleges.
The records being sought by investigators go far beyond Qatar, though, and include dealings with China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, and specific companies in those nations.
Investigators ordered both schools to disclose funding from Huawei or ZTE, the Chinese tech giants that some US officials call a threat to national security.
Georgetown is being asked to detail money it received from any sources in Saudi Arabia or Russia, including Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity company.
The letters warn that Georgetown and Texas A&M could face legal action and financial penalties if they were found to have broken the rules.
If investigators find a violation, it can be referred to the US attorney general’s office for action “to compel compliance and to recover the full costs”’ of the investigation and enforcement, the letters said.
Georgetown officials said the school is reviewing the letter and would cooperate with the inquiry.
The university said in a statement that it “takes seriously its reporting obligations and provides all information as required by the Department of Education every six months.”
The crackdown follows complaints from some lawmakers that the department has not done enough to review foreign funding to colleges.
The issue has gained attention amid heightened tensions with China and some other nations.
In February, a bipartisan congressional panel urged US colleges to cut ties with the Confucius Institute, a Chinese-language program funded by a branch of the Chinese government.
Some critics say it is a threat to US national security and academic freedom.
The same panel found that 70 percent of US schools receiving US$250,000 or more from China to operate Confucius Institutes failed to report the funding, and that the education department failed to provide adequate oversight.
US Senator Rob Portman, chairman of the panel, told the department in January to issue updated guidance and improve its oversight practices.
On Thursday, he applauded the agency for taking action.
“When US schools take money from foreign governments, the American people deserve to know about it,” he said.
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