May 28, 2022

New Report From GAO: “U.S. Universities in China Emphasize Academic Freedom but Face Internet Censorship and Other Challenges”

The report linked below was publicly released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Key Findings from the Report

The 12 U.S. universities GAO reviewed generally reported receiving support for their institutions in China from Chinese government entities and universities, with limited funding from U.S. government agencies and other donors. Universities reported contributions from Chinese provincial and local governments and from partner universities for land, building construction, and use of campus facilities. Fewer than half of the universities reported receiving federal funding. Almost all of the U.S. universities said their programs in China generated net revenue for the university or had a neutral impact on its budget.

Universities’ agreements with their Chinese partners or other policies that GAO reviewed generally include language protecting academic freedom or indicating their institution in China would adhere to U.S. standards. About half of universities GAO reviewed address access to information, such as providing faculty and students with access to physical or online libraries, though few universities’ agreements and policies include language protecting Internet access. About half of the universities’ policies include language indicating protection of at least one other key freedom—speech, assembly, or religion.

Source: GAO

Source: GAO

University members generally indicated that they experienced academic freedom, but they also indicated that Internet censorship and other factors presented constraints. Administrators said they generally controlled curriculum content, and faculty and students said they could teach or study what they chose. However, fewer than half of the universities GAO reviewed have uncensored Internet access. At several universities that lacked uncensored Internet access, students and faculty told us that, as a result, they sometimes faced challenges teaching, conducting research, and completing coursework. Administrators, faculty, and students also cited examples of self-censorship, where certain sensitive political topics—such as Tiananmen Square or China’s relationship with Taiwan—were avoided in class, and of constraints faced by Chinese students in particular. Universities approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education as having independent legal status share characteristics—such as campuses located away from their Chinese university partner’s campus and extensive student life programs—that may be correlated with greater academic freedom and other key freedoms.

Direct to Highlights Page:(1 page; PDF)

Direct to Full Report Report (59 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.