USA: Universities on the Foreign Payroll

Many top colleges and universities in the U.S. receive millions of dollars from foreign governments.
Many top colleges and universities in the U.S. receive millions of dollars from foreign governments.

BYLydia Dennett

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After the Central Intelligence Agency found that the crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia likely ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced it would be reviewing its “Institute-level engagements” with the Kingdom. The fallout from the murder of Khashoggi has put a spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s extensive financial connections to universities across the United States.

A Project On Government Oversight review of federal records found that universities in the United States reported receiving over $600 million from various Saudi companies, individuals, and the government itself between 2011 and 2017. In 2017 alone, Saudi individuals, companies, and the Kingdom itself spent over $89 million on gifts and contracts with higher-education institutions like Columbia University, Tufts University, and the University of Southern California, with each school receiving at least $1 million. George Washington University reported receiving over $12 million in 2017 alone through two contracts with the Saudi Arabian government.

Yet MIT has been the most vocal about reviewing its financial relationship with the country. MIT reported receiving almost $78 million in revenue between 2011 and 2017 from Saudi Arabian sources. However, the vast majority of that money, approximately $73 million, was from private donations from a single Saudi businessman and MIT alumnus, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel. The remainder of the money came from the Saudi government-owned oil company, Aramco.

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