China secured $120 million in contracts with US universities in 2021, records show

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China-based entities, including the Chinese government, secured $120 million in contracts with American colleges in 2021, federal data reveals.

The Chinese institutions entered into agreements ranging from $105,000 to $31 million with more than two dozen universities, a search of the College Foreign Gift and Contract Report database shows.

The federal records, however, contain minimal details on the arrangements, such as the private Chinese entities involved and the specifics of the contracts.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping waves during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games at the National Stadium in Beijing, capital of China, March 13, 2022. (Photo by Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via Getty Images)

China, which has cozied up to higher education in the United States, enters into the agreements to “gain influence and spread its propaganda into the universities,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, told Fox News.

“China’s ultimate goal is to control education,” the North Carolina congresswoman said. “And once you control education, you control a culture.”

The University of Houston reported the largest monetary contract with a Chinese entity last year, the records show. Houston inked a nearly $32 million agreement with an unreported private source.

Chris Stipes, the director of media relations for the University of Houston, told Fox News that the contract is between Houston and Dalian Maritime University in China. The two schools combined forces to form the Dalian Maritime University International Institute.

“The institute offers three undergraduate programs in mechanical engineering, civil engineering and electrical engineering,” Stipes said. “Students graduate with degrees from both UH and DMU.”

Dalian Maritime University falls under the Ministry of Transport of the People’s Republic of China. Li Xiaopeng, the agency’s head, is a member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Other universities reported contracts directly with China’s government. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign shows five contracts totaling $26.5 million with the Chinese government.

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Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reported the third-highest totals with China operations. According to the records, the institute hauled in $14 million in contracts with unknown China-based entities, although this money did not come from their government.

The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and MIT did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the contracts.

Foreign contracts and gift reporting between international entities and American universities have been lackluster until recently. The online self-reporting system did not open until June 2020, making the total amount in prior contracts unclear. 

The Department of Education also discovered $6.5 billion in previously unreported foreign money to universities from adversarial countries, including China and Russia, in 2020. Earlier that year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations called the foreign money a “black hole” due to colleges “routinely” failing to comply with the law, according to US News & World Report. 

Yet most American parents are unaware that foreign money is prevalent in universities. Nearly 60% of parents did not know that China and other countries are major funders of colleges, a 2021 poll from the Lawfare Project found. 

China’s collaborations with universities have garnered increased scrutiny from members of Congress in recent years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi is said to be China's most authoritarian leader in decades. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi is said to be China’s most authoritarian leader in decades. 
(Wang Ye/Xinhua via Getty Images)

The Senate unanimously approved a bill to crack down on Confucius Institutes, or Beijing-funded cultural centers, on campuses last year. The House added a version of this bill to the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021.

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China has also kept a close eye on dissenters on U.S. campuses, who have faced swift retaliation for being outspoken against their authoritarian government, ProPublica reported.

In one instance, a graduate student at Purdue University posted a message on a dissident website applauding the bravery of the students killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.  

His parents called from China, crying, and said China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), its civilian spy agency, had warned them of his actions. “They told us to make you stop or we are all in trouble,” his parents told him.

Other students at Purdue started harassing him, calling him a CIA agent and saying they would report him to the embassy and MSS.

The student had also planned to speak at an event for the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Despite his hesitancy, he participated in rehearsals for it.

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The MSS revisited his parents, and he decided not to speak at the event.

“I think that the Zoom rehearsals were known by the Chinese Communist Party,” the student told ProPublica. “I think some of the Chinese students in my school are CCP members. I can tell they are not simply students. They could be spies or informants.”

Fox News’ Ethan Barton produced the accompanying graphic.