The House of Representatives voted 246 to 170 on Wednesday to pass a bill that would require colleges and universities to report more foreign gifts or risk their access to federal financial aid.
The legislation is the first in a series of bills aimed at reforming the Higher Education Act of 1965. It addresses a number of concerns Republicans have raised in recent years about the flow of foreign dollars to colleges and universities, and about institutions’ compliance with federal reporting requirements.
Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires colleges and universities to disclose, twice a year, all foreign gifts and contracts totaling $250,000 or more.
The Defending Education Transparency and Ending Rogue Regimes Engaging in Nefarious Transactions (DETERRENT) Act would, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Biden, lower the threshold to $50,000. For gifts and contracts from countries of concern—China, Russia, Iran and North Korea—colleges would have to report gifts and contracts of any amount. The bill also would make reporting an annual requirement. Further, institutions wouldn’t be able to sign contracts with countries of concern unless they receive a waiver from the Education Department, among other changes.
The House voted 372 to 39 to amend the legislation to require that foreign entities disclose any ties to designated foreign terrorist organizations, which includes Hamas.
The American Council on Education and 17 other higher education groups opposed the bill, writing in a letter to House leadership that it was unnecessary and could curtail “international research collaboration and academic and cultural exchanges.”
Thirty-one Democrats voted with Republicans to pass the bill. Other Democrats, including Virginia representative Bobby Scott, echoed higher education’s concerns in their remarks opposing the act. Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, said the legislation does nothing to protect research security at colleges and universities.
“For example, colleges must report any gift from a representative of a ‘country of concern’ no matter the value—even a cup of coffee,” Scott said. “The faculty’s information is then shared in a publicly searchable database, regardless of whether the action was nefarious or not. This is so excessive and burdensome—to say nothing about the potential discriminatory effect—that it would disincentivize universities from conducting critical research using collaborative partners from around the world.”
North Carolina representative Virginia Foxx, the Republican chair of the House education committee, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement that it would help address declining public confidence in American universities.
“Yes, passing this legislation would send a strong message to our foreign adversaries, but more importantly it would send a strong message to our constituents—we are good stewards of your votes,” she said. “While I know we cannot restore public trust in the university system overnight, requiring a basic level of transparency in foreign donations and accountability from universities is a great first step.”