Research for Sale: How Chinese Money Flows to American Universities

James Already:

Chinese companies are feeling a cold shoulder in the U.S.—except at universities, where they are welcomed as customers.

American universities sign contracts around the world to sell their research and training expertise, and some of their most lucrative agreements have been with companies based in China. The decadeslong trade thrives despite a deepening U.S.-China rivalry and rising sensitivities about Beijing’s influence on American campuses.

Nearly 200 U.S. colleges and universities held contracts with Chinese businesses, valued at $2.32 billion, between 2012 and 2024, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of disclosures made to the Education Department. The Journal tallied roughly 2,900 contracts.

The extensive trade in American expertise presents a quandary for universities and policymakers in Washington: Where’s the line between fostering academic research and empowering a U.S. rival?

“It seems clear that when the Chinese contract with U.S. universities they are getting a capability they can’t get anywhere else,” said Daniel Currell, a Trump administration Education Department official who has tracked foreign influence in higher education. “The big question is, what [contracts] should be legal, what should be legal and disclosable, and what should be illegal?” he added.