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Senate Bill Could Hamper Foreign Partnerships in Higher Education

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The Association of American Universities (AAU) fears that an iteration of the US Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) could discourage foreign gifts and collaboration.

In reconciling various versions of the bill, the Senate has agreed to keep specific policies that could drastically affect the country’s approach to scientific partnerships.  

This includes a requirement demanding colleges and universities disclose “any gifts received from a foreign source [by] faculty, professional staff, and others engaged in research.” Additionally, such information would be placed in a public database. 

The provision will apply to any college or university that receives more than $5 million in federal funding annually. Any school that does not comply will be fined up to $50,000.

Senator Richard Burr reasoned that the clause would protect the country’s taxpayer-funded research from being stolen and weaponized by foreign governments since researchers would not be enticed by financial gifts. 

Objections

However, the AAU is looking to stop this from happening or having it drastically amended.

“It is duplicative, unworkable … and counterproductive to both our national research enterprise and to national security,” AAU President Barbara Snyder wrote in a letter to key committee members discussing the final bill.

Snyder explained that a significant concern among institutions is that there is no specific threshold included in the bill. The House-passed version, which the AAU tagged as reasonable, stated that the minimum donation to be reported was $50,000.

The coalition pointed out that the government already requires those applying for a federal grant to report all foreign and domestic sources of research support. Plus, reporting foreign gifts of at least $250,000 is also demanded by the Department of Education.

“It is unclear exactly what additional information [the Senate language on gifts to individuals] is intended are elicit, or why that information would be valuable,” Snyder said.

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