Over the past 30 years, public higher education institutions in Alabama have received millions from foreign sources, including the Chinese government and Saudi Arabia.

Section 117 of the Higher education Act of 1965 requires that universities disclose gifts and contracts from foreign sources to the U.S. Department of Education (USDED). Colleges must report contracts and gifts from foreign sources valued at $250,000 or more annually. 

These disclosures are listed on the USDED's College Foreign Gift Reporting Database, accessible online

In total, public universities in Alabama reported $190.96 million in gifts and contributions from foreign sources. Though not all of it came from government entities, only $57.82 million came from non-government sources. 

The source of the most foreign funding to state universities was Kuwait due to its nearly $50 million in contributions to the University of Alabama (UA). Most of the reported contracts were for tuition and fees for exchange students. 

Saudi Arabia contributed a total of $23.16 million to public Alabama universities.

The next highest cumulative contribution came from England, totaling roughly $21 million. This number does not include contracts and gifts from Ireland and Wales, which contributed an additional $2.5 million. Contributions from the United Kingdom as a whole totaled $23.49 million.

China also contributed significantly to public Alabama colleges, totaling over $17 million, mostly from a government source. Other multimillion-dollar foreign sources included Switzerland, Japan, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Oman, Korea, Australia, Bermuda and Zambia.

Foreign contributions were listed for six out of 13 public universities in Alabama. Here are each school's top five:

Auburn University

  1. Saudi Arabia ($2.3 million)

  2. Germany ($1.09 million)

  3. China ($698,904)

  4. Iceland ($500,262)

  5. Korea ($408,880)

With foreign contributions to Auburn University Montgomery (AUM) included, China is Auburn's No. 1 reported foreign source, totaling $2.45 million. 

However, there is reason to believe that Auburn may not have reported all its foreign contributions.

In January 2021, Auburn received a letter from USDED citing discrepancies between Auburn's "self-described collaboration with foreign sources," including a 2015 agreement with the Ocean University of China, and Auburn's reported foreign funding.

At that time, Auburn had only reported two foreign source contracts since reporting became mandatory under Section 117. In the letter, the USDED notified Auburn of a "preliminary inquiry" to determine "the nature and extent of Auburn's Section 117 violations, if any."

The University of Alabama

  1. Kuwait ($47.5 million)

  2. Saudi Arabia ($11.91 million)

  3. Japan ($4.21 million)

  4. England ($4.05 million)

  5. Germany ($3.09 million)

UA also received over a million dollars in funding from Korea, Oman, Turkey and Denmark.

In 2020, USDED sent a letter to UA notifying the university of an investigation into an alleged failure to report a "partnership" with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, which USDED officials admitted "may be closely linked to the origin and/or spread of the Chinese COVID-19 virus," even as numerous mainstream media outlets, such as CNN, Forbes, Vox, ABC, The Guardian and NPR, labeled the lab-leak theory of COVID origins "debunked," "disproven," "unlikely" or merely a "conspiracy theory."

In December 2020, USDED sent another letter to UA notifying the university that the department closed the investigation after finding that "no qualifying gifts or contracts indicating an association between UA and WIV had been reported to the Department."

Most of UA's funding from sources in Saudi Arabia is listed on the database as "payment of tuition fees for certain students from Saudi Arabia." 

The University of Alabama Birmingham

  1. England ($16.94 million)

  2. Switzerland ($14.97 million)

  3. Sweden ($8.62 million)

  4. Saudi Arabia ($7.72 million)

  5. Canada ($7.09 million)

The University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) also received large amounts of funding from sources in Japan, Denmark, China, Germany, Oman, Australia, Bermuda and Zambia. The school received lesser amounts of foreign funding from various other sources. 

University of South Alabama

  1. China ($6.45 million)

  2. Kuwait ($2.95 million)

  3. Saudi Arabia ($1.23 million)

The University of South Alabama only reported foreign contributions from the three sources listed above. All were from government sources.

Troy University

  1. China ($3.05 million)

All but one of Troy's $3.05 million foreign contributions came from the Chinese government. The remaining $463,657 contract came from an unspecified source in China. One of the contracts from the Chinese government was labeled as "Confucius Institute Headquarters" and described as "Cultural Enrichment." 

This year, Troy was one of the last universities to close its Confucius Institute after the Department of Defense threatened to withhold funding from universities with active Confucius Institutes.

Troy's senior director of communications Matthew Clower said that though Troy does not currently receive funding from the DOD, the opportunity to pursue federal funding of all kinds is essential to the university's long-term goals.

The same press release insisted that Troy would continue to "recruit students from China" and "maintain relationships with Chinese universities."

Jacksonville State University 

  1. China ($250,000)

Jacksonville State University's only reported contribution was a gift from a source in China. It was unclear what it was for or whether it was from a government or non-government source.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email will.blakely@1819news.com or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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