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Penn’s foreign fundraising of nearly $258 million places it third in the Ivy League. Credit: Sydney Judge

Hundreds of foreign organizations made donations to Penn, totaling nearly $258 million between 2013 and mid-2019, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The identity of Penn’s foreign donors remains unclear in many cases, but some include Chinese banks, foreign pharmaceutical companies, and Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Defense, the Inquirer reported. Over 30% of all foreign donations and 40% of those from China came from anonymous sources, the Inquirer reported.

Chinese donors and contractors contributed more to Penn than residents of any other country, giving $67.6 million, followed closely by those from the United Kingdom, who contributed almost $61 million, the Inquirer found.

Federal law requires colleges and universities to report foreign gifts or contracts worth more than $250,000 to the government, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote in a Feb. 12 statement. However, the Department of Education announced earlier this month that it was launching investigations into Harvard and Yale for allegedly failing to report hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign gifts. 

In the Feb. 12 statement, DeVos called for “transparency” in universities’ and colleges’ foreign income. 

“The more we dig, the more we find that too many are underreporting or not reporting at all," DeVos wrote in the statement.

Amid this federal crackdown on foreign contributions to universities, Penn has submitted new, previously unreported transactions not included in the $258 million figure in the past month, a DOE spokesperson told the Inquirer. The official explained that the specifics of the new data will likely not be published until March or April. Penn did not respond to several requests from the Inquirer to comment on these new transactions.

The American Council on Education, which represents around 1,700 universities, including Penn, wrote to the DOE in January 2019 and again in June 2019 to request clarification of federal guidelines concerning foreign gifts and contracts. The Council argued that it is nearly impossible for universities to comply with the legislation around reporting foreign financial contributions because they are unsure of their obligations under the law. The Council wrote in July 2019 that the current enforcement of regulations is “patently unfair.”

The Trump administration has placed increasing pressure on universities to disclose connections to foreign nations that the administration deems national security threats, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Last summer, the DOE launched investigations into the reporting practices of Georgetown, Texas A&M, Cornell, and Rutgers, The New York Times reported.

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