CHINA WATCHHow U.S. Colleges, Universities Can Mitigate Risks Related to Foreign-Funded Language and Culture Institutes

Published 5 July 2023

A new report from the National Academies recommends steps that U.S. colleges and universities can take to identify and mitigate risks associated with foreign-funded language and culture institutes on campuses. The report follows one released in January that examined Confucius Institutes — Chinese government-funded language and culture centers.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends steps that U.S. colleges and universities can take to identify and mitigate risks associated with foreign-funded language and culture institutes on campuses.

The report, developed in response to a mandate from Congress, follows one released in January that examined Confucius Institutes — Chinese government-funded language and culture centers — and recommended conditions that a college or university should meet for the U.S. Department of Defense to consider granting a waiver to the institution to host a CI while receiving DOD funding for research. 

The new report examines foreign-funded language and culture institutes more broadly. The committee that wrote the report built upon its earlier analysis of Confucius Institutes to better understand the characteristics and features of foreign-funded language and culture institutes at colleges and universities, determine which attributes may serve as flags and require deliberation and vetting prior to entering into or renewing a partnership, and identify implementable practices and principles to address risks. 

“These partnerships can offer many benefits to institutions of higher education as well as to government and industry, including expanding capacity for language instruction and exposing students to foreign cultures — an economic and national security advantage for the U.S. in an increasingly complex geopolitical environment,” said Philip Hanlon, chair of the committee, and president emeritus of Dartmouth College. “These partnerships can also pose risks, which can’t be completely eliminated but can be mitigated. We hope that our report can offer practical, actionable advice to colleges and universities and can help them understand and address these risks.”

 Foreign-funded language and culture institutes may pose risks for U.S. host institutions regarding academic freedom, freedom of expression, governance, and national security, the report says. This is particularly true if the values of the sponsoring nation do not align with the democratic values held by the U.S. and if the sponsoring nation is suspected of engaging in activities adversely affecting human rights; academic freedom; freedom of expression, association, or dissent; or U.S. national security.

Among the report’s recommendations:

·  U.S. host institutions should develop and implement appropriate policies, procedures, and processes to identify, address, and mitigate risks associated with foreign-funded language and culture institutes on campuses. For example, U.S. host institutions should possess full managerial control of any foreign-funded institute, including control over curriculum, instructors, textbooks and teaching materials, programmatic decisions, and research grants.
·  U.S. host institutions should promote a culture through their policies and practices that clearly articulates, ensures, and promotes the core values of U.S. higher education, including academic freedom and freedom of expression, among faculty, staff, and students. Host institutions should ensure that foreign-funded language and culture institutes are fully subject to these policies and practices.
·  U.S. host institutions should take into consideration whether the foreign nation they are partnering with is considered a country of concern. In this case, U.S. host institutions should consider additional vetting to better understand and mitigate possible risks presented by a language and culture institute with ties to such a country. The report adds that risk assessments ultimately should be behavior- or activity-based, and that “countries of concern” are fluid and change over time.
·  U.S. host institutions should bolster the dissemination of information to administrators, faculty, and staff on the process used to initiate and review foreign-funded collaborations.
·  U.S. host institutions conducting $50 million or more of federally funded research per year should be in compliance with National Security Presidential Memorandum-33 (NSPM-33) or subsequent versions of this document. Additional research should be conducted in support of developing research security recommendations and implementable practices for institutions that are below the $50 million federal research expenditure threshold and therefore not subject to NSPM-33.
·  The U.S. government, led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, should create or facilitate the creation of a publicly available clearinghouse of research security information and resources that universities can access.
·  The U.S. government should develop a harmonized, consistent approach across federal agencies for the reporting of foreign gifts and contracts by U.S. institutions of higher education.
·  Higher education accrediting bodies should subject foreign-funded language and culture institutes at U.S. host institutions to review as part of the accreditation process.

“Our committee — which included higher education administrators and researchers, foreign language and China experts, and members of the national security community — reached consensus on a set of findings and recommendations that will go a long way toward mitigating the risks posed by foreign-funded language and culture institutes on U.S. campuses,” said Jayathi Murthy, vice chair of the committee, and president of Oregon State University.

The study, undertaken by the Committee on Confucius Institutes at U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.