Arabian Gulf Money and US Universities

A number of observers have noted some large gifts originating from Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Gulf countries to US universities.  The purpose of this post is to put in perspective how large those gifts are.  In subsequent posts I’ll discuss where the money is going and what it may mean.

The motivation for this post comes from Stanley Kurtz, who has a piece over at National Review Online with a list of gifts and contracts from foreign sources to U.S. universities.  Kurtz rightly emphasizes: “To treat all or even most foreign gifts to American colleges or universities as somehow nefarious would be a serious mistake. America’s institutions of higher education — with their superb programs in science, medicine, and engineering — rightly benefit from the largesse of America’s foreign friends and allies, many of whom have benefited directly from the technical expertise developed in these institutions.”

But he continues: “On the other hand, there are reasonable grounds to fear that some foreign donations may purchase undue influence over the way in which highly controversial subjects are treated in American lecture halls.”

I would add a further caveat that gifts to universities rarely, if ever, lead professors to alter the views they hold.  The slogan, “follow the money,” is a gross oversimplification of how academia works.  While one can’t simply buy ideas in academia, it is important to examine donations as an indicator of priorities in those institutions.  The money doesn’t buy ideas, but it can buy emphasis on some issues and some types of academics over others.

That being said, Arabian Gulf money is clearly a significant issue in higher education.  According to the federal filings Kurtz reproduces, Arabian Gulf gifts and contracts to US universities have exceeded $321 million since 1995.  That’s more than 16% of all reported gifts and contracts from foreign sources. 

To put the magnitude of those gifts in perspective, the Arabian Gulf states from which the money came have economies that represent less than 2% of global GDP (excluding the US).  So, their share of foreign gifts to US universities is eight times as large as their foreign share of global wealth production.  The Arabian Gulf states are exceptionally interested in US higher education.  The breakdown by country can be seen in the table below: 

Gifts and Contracts from Arabian Gulf States to U.S. Universities Since 1995
  Gifts and Contracts % of Total Foreign Gifts Share of Global GDP (ex US)
BAHRAIN $8,199,058 0.42% 0.05%
KUWAIT $7,639,854 0.39% 0.27%
OMAN $9,046,801 0.46% 0.12%
QATAR $151,702,156 7.75% 0.13%
SAUDI ARABIA $92,972,720 4.75% 1.10%
UAE $52,058,098 2.66% 0.28%
Total Gulf States $321,618,687 16.44% 1.95%

How do these figures compare with gifts and contracts from other foreign sources to US universities?  If we look at donations from the 10 largest trading partners with the US (excluding Saudi Arabia, which ranks 9th), we see that they are roughly proportionate to their share of global GDP.

Gifts and Contracts from Top Trading Partners (ex Saudis) to U.S. Universities Since 1995
  Gifts and Contracts % of Total Foreign Gifts Share of Global GDP (ex US)
 Canada  $73,418,414 3.75% 2.45%
 Mexico  $21,272,215 1.09% 2.60%
 China  $53,266,855 2.72% 13.55%
Japan $257,196,140 13.15% 8.36%
Germany $207,624,660 10.61% 5.45%
 United Kingdom  $163,232,433 8.34% 4.13%
 Korea, South  $42,893,079 2.19% 2.32%
 France  $62,638,953 3.20% 3.98%
 Netherlands  $34,800,500 1.78% 1.23%
Total $916,343,249 46.84% 44.09%

The highest ratio of share of foreign gifts to share of GDP is 2 to 1 among these major trading partners.  Certainly none of these countries gives at a rate that is 8 times out of proportion with its wealth. (Although as South Park would say, we have to watch those Canadians, with their floppy heads and pointy eyes.)

Tune in here for a discussion of why the Arabian Gulf states may have such a strong interest in US universities and what it may all mean.

This Piece Continues Here.

8 Responses to Arabian Gulf Money and US Universities

  1. Greg Forster says:

    When comparing gifts given by Gulf states to gifts given by top trading partners, it’s important to remember that trading partners have a clear reason to be giving money to American universities – it buys goodwill and influences issue priorities in a nation in which they (the trading partners) have a significant economic interest. The point is, if we’re looking to figure out the larger significance of these gifts, that the trading partners represent only one possible “baseline” standard for comparison. Other appropriate baselines would be zero or each nation’s share of world GDP (excluding the US).

    I guess what I’m driving at here is that we don’t simply need to explain why Gulf states give proportionately more than the top US trading partners; we need to explain why they give proportionately more even though their economic interest in the US is much less (except in the case of Saudi Arabia).

    Oh, and I believe it’s “beady” little eyes, not “pointy.” (Depticting Canadians as having pointy eyes? That’s just silly.)

  2. Hobart Milton says:

    Is there a breakdown on the receiving end of this windfall for our universities? Also, are there any documented abuses related to this topic? This is not the first time I’ve seen this story and I wonder if someone has also done a time perspective on the matter. And, oh yes, what percentage (by country) of our univerisyt population comes from these foreign investors?

    Thanks for bringing this topic up. And it is a good question: is this money given with no strings attached or is someone expecting a puppet show on their behalf?

  3. Michelle Malkin » American universities and the Arabian Gulf cash flow says:

    […] Jay Greene takes a closer look. Posted in: Education Send to a Friend Printer Friendly comments (0)   trackbacks (0) […]

  4. heroyalwhyness says:

    Take these recent donations to Harvard and Georgetown for example . . .
    Saudi Prince Gives Millions to Harvard and Georgetown (reported Dec 2005)

    Within one year of that announcement we read:
    Harvard in biggest curriculum overhaul in 30 years

  5. Steve says:

    First of all the ture and legal name for that body of water between Iran and its arab neighbours is the Persian Gulf so get it right !!

    Secondly the arabs are trying to buy US intellectual opinions in their favour by donating larg money to US colleges and universities.

  6. Hello dear friend
    as you may know, there is not any body water on the earth called arabian gulf. The fabricated term has roots in political deals. The correct name Persian Gulf is being used for 7500 years and we can not counterfeit the historical names on our own.

  7. I sit corrected. I should have written “Arab countires bordering the Persian Gulf” rather than “Arabian Gulf countries.”

  8. […] The largest source of funding for UK universities since 1995 has come from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim Countries, over 240 million pounds. A great deal has flowed into American Universities as well.  The impact on educational freedom is obvious.  Over $320 million has gone to US Universities and Colleges since 1995. (Source) […]

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