[Originally published May 20, 2016]
Leading U.S. universities are pushing back against a proposed State Department rule that would bar foreign students from more research projects and classes involving information seen as vital to national security.
The proposal by the administration of President Barack Obama reflects growing worries in Washington over a rise in intellectual property theft from foreign adversaries such as China.
Research related to defense technology such as munitions, nuclear engineering and satellite technology would be particularly affected by the rule, which is still in the proposal process and has not been widely reported.
The new rule, which largely applies to company-sponsored research, threatens to shrink the pool of research opportunities available for U.S. colleges, which have grown strongly in popularity among high-paying foreign students in recent years.
Some top U.S. schools do not accept any research grants that restrict participation by foreign citizens because it runs counter to their policies of academic freedom and non-discrimination.
In a letter to the State Department, Stanford University said it joined The Association of American Universities (AAU), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Pennsylvania in criticizing the rule, citing "disastrous consequences." The AAU represents 62 leading research institutions, including Harvard, Duke University, and the University of Chicago.
"We wouldn't be able to perform the same basic foundational research that we do," said Stanford's director of export compliance Steve Eisner. "Stanford has a policy of conducting research openly regardless of citizenship. We're not going to tell our Chinese students that they can't participate."
A 2011 FBI report said "foreign adversaries and competitors take advantage" of the openness of information on college campuses and a small percentage of students, researchers and foreign professors are "working at the behest of another government."
There were just under 1 million foreign students at U.S. colleges in the 2014-2015 school year, 31 percent of whom were Chinese, according to the Institute of International Education.