American universities accept billions of dollars in gifts and contracts from foreign countries, including China and Russia, the department of education found in a report published Tuesday.
Higher education institutions in America reported more than 7,000 transactions from overseas governments - around $3.8 billion in the first half of the year, according to the education authority.
"There is a very real reason for concern that foreign money buys influence or control over teaching and research," the report noted.
In June 2020, the Trump administration made it mandatory for universities to inform authorities of foreign gifts over $250,000. This led to a flood in reports by universities that had previously never used the optional reporting system first established in 1987 to track overseas donations.
The department of education's recent report details how institutions have self-reported more than $6.6 billion in funding from Qatar, China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in recent years.
In the most recent reporting period ending July 31, 2020, an additional $1.05 billion was funneled into American universities by these countries alone.
A large part of China's contributions are in the form of grants to establish Confucius Institutes on university campuses across the U.S. and around the world.
The first such venture was set up in 2004 in South Korea. But they are multiplying quickly; China set a goal of 1,000 Confucius Institutes around the world by 2020 as part of a "Confucius revolution" according to the organization's 2017 annual report.
This mission is not supported by the Trump administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone on record to accuse the organization of spreading propaganda and in August the institutes were designated an arm of the Chinese Communist Party.
"American Confucius Centers"
China and Russia are not the only ones to exert this type of soft power in the name of furthering national interests - America budgets hundreds of millions of dollars every year to finance similar overseas academic ventures.
Since 1957, more than 300 institutions in 80 countries have received financial support from the office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad, which falls under the U.S. Agency for International Development umbrella.
Congress approved a budget of $700 million in 2019 and another of roughly $730 million in 2020 for 'Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs.'
"The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs designs and implements educational, professional, and cultural exchange programs that promote American leadership and advance U.S. foreign policy goals," U.S. Agency for International Development said in its 2020-2021 congressional budget justification.
The funding is splashed around the world. In 2018 for instance, the American University of Beirut received nearly $24 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development for education programs, which is a drop in the bucket compared with the $635 million awarded to Middle Eastern and North African institutions in the last four decades, according to ASHA.
"We used to call them American Confucius centres," a US exchange student who studied in Paris told Business Times. The 'City of Love' is home to the American University of Paris, which is also bankrolled by the U.S. government.
Among other goals, the ECA "targets emerging and current leaders who can be reached effectively through international exchanges," according to the report.
But while the Trump administration will be slashing funding next year, with approximately $310 million being requested by the development agency for the academic programs, China's Confucius Institutes are unlikely to follow suit.