The Research Office

Wilson Hall
371 Wilson Boulevard
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4486
(location map)
(248) 370-2762
(248) 370-4111
[email protected]

Foreign Influence

Oakland University is committed to international research collaborations, welcoming investigators from around the world, supporting research that spans borders, and ideas that demand global implementation. Collaboration and learning within and across diverse groups is essential to the endeavor of creating, disseminating, and translating new knowledge. It is also true, however, that the federal government and its funding agencies are voicing increased concerns about potentially improper foreign influence and involvement in federally funded research. There have been clear attempts by foreign entities to gain access to cutting edge intellectual property generated at universities through this research. While staying true to a core belief that academic integrity depends upon a vigorous exchange of ideas, a balance must be struck between the open and free exchange of ideas on the one hand and protection of restricted technology on the other.

On August 20, 2018, Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), issued a letter stating that “NIH is aware that some foreign entities have mounted systematic programs to influence NIH researchers and peer reviewers and to take advantage of the long tradition of trust, fairness, and excellence of NIH-supported research facilities.” Dr. Collins emphasized that researchers funded by the NIH must “disclose all forms of other support and financial interests, including support coming from foreign governments or other foreign entities … on all applications and progress reports.” More recently research universities have begun to receive letters from the NIH requesting information about specific faculty members receiving NIH funds who are believed to have links to foreign entities or governments that were not previously disclosed to the NIH. On June 5, 2019, while testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, a deputy director of the NIH disclosed that they have referred 16 allegations related to foreign influence of U.S. funded research for investigation.

Moreover, programs aimed to recruit academic talent to other countries, known as “talent programs,” have come under review by federal agencies. In June of 2018, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence described Chinese talent programs as being designed to “facilitate the transfer of foreign technology intellectual property and know-how to advance China’s science, technology and military modernization goals.” There was a proposed amendment to the Department of Defense spending authorization to render researchers ineligible for DoD funding if they had previously participated or continued to participate in any talent program operated by China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia. Ultimately this amendment did not make the final bill, but the final bill did call for further study on that issue and possible independent regulations. The Department of Energy has issued its own order restricting those receiving agency funds from participating in talent programs operated by countries that the agency deems “sensitive.” Inside Higher Ed has an excellent summary of these developments, including multiple viewpoints on the issues.

The University community must attend to its obligations for compliance with export control laws and regulations. Please remember that you are required to disclose foreign research support to government funding agencies in proposals (e.g., NIH’s Other Support, NSF’s Current and Pending Support, and similar documentation from other sponsors) and technical/programmatic reports. In your non-University time (such as non-appointment summer months), please exercise appropriate care and thoughtfulness in the collaborations or consulting that you engage with as these may affect your eligibility for future sponsored project funding. It is recommended that you, and your personal legal counsel or advisors, ensure that the terms of any external appointments do not conflict with your obligations to the University, including but not limited to those present in the Conflict of Interest policy.

We will continue to work to keep you all informed as this landscape changes, ensuring that you are positioned to comply with regulations and protect your research funding eligibility. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate in contacting me or my staff.

David A. Stone
Vice President for Research