New Florida law beefs up colleges’ foreign gift reporting requirements

Dive Brief:

  • Public and private colleges in Florida will be required to disclose to the state their gifts from foreign entities worth $50,000 or more as part of a new law.

  • Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation Monday, which also calls for public schools with large research budgets to “screen” certain job applicants for research-related positions.

  • State and federal lawmakers have taken new interest in scrutinizing colleges’ foreign financial ties. 

Dive Insight:

The Trump administration, in a multiyear blitz, cracked down on the federal law mandating colleges report foreign gifts and contracts worth $250,000 or more in a year, opening almost 20 investigations into institutions and crafting a stringent new reporting checklist. 

Higher education’s top lobbying group opposed the Trump Education Department’s efforts and has since called for regulatory action that would clarify colleges’ reporting requirements. 

The election of President Joe Biden has not erased these concerns, with the Senate poised to pass a sweeping legislative package designed to boost the U.S.’s research competitiveness and mitigate foreign influence, namely from China.

The Trump administration’s posture also bled down into some states. DeSantis, when announcing the proposal in early March, accused China of trying to infiltrate the U.S. and steal intellectual property. He singled out China again in a statement after signing the legislation, calling it a “hostile foreign power.”

Under the new law, colleges will need to report foreign donations and grants of $50,000 or more twice a year to either the governing board of the State University System of Florida or the state’s education department. It takes effect July 1. 

The law also forbids public institutions from participating in certain agreements with countries “of concern,” which it defines as China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela. An example of such a prohibited agreement would be one that encourages an “agenda detrimental to the safety” of the U.S. or its residents. The bill does not clearly define the terms of these prohibited agreements.

Public universities with research budgets of $10 million or more would need to screen foreign applicants for any research position, as well as those who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and affiliated with, or worked for at least a year at, an institution or program in one of the countries “of concern.”  

These applicants must submit information including a description of current and pending research funding and its source.

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