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Project scope & sponsors

The following questions are generally applicable to all international activities, from major institution-building collaborations to single-PI research projects, though some will apply more clearly to certain projects than others.

What types of activities are covered by the project?


MIT engages in numerous international projects, and some activities recur in different forms in many of our international agreements. These include:

  • Research.
  • Institution building and institutional change.
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Education and curriculum development.
  • Assistance with faculty recruitment and training.
  • Personnel exchange.

Consider early in your planning what activities will occur during the course of the project, what value the activities bring to the MIT community, and what lessons can be learned from prior projects.

Will project personnel spend time abroad?


Clear communication with sponsors is essential, particularly with regard to faculty time abroad. It is important that, early in the process, you discuss any potential expectations for MIT personnel presence abroad with your sponsor.

While extended stays are often acceptable for students and staff, they present unique challenges in areas that include taxes and supervision. Tax laws vary by country and MIT personnel working outside the U.S. may be subject to income tax in that country, as well as the U.S. More broadly, MIT may create a permanent establishment (PE) in another country by performing some services, and as a result might have to pay taxes on contract funds

Many countries require a visa for U.S. citizens. MIT has a preferred vendor, A Briggs, that provides support for obtaining visas.

Review MIT resources for managing people abroad.

Will your project bring visitors to MIT?


It is important to determine whether your project will bring international visitors to MIT, how many will come, and how long they will stay.

Department administrators provide assistance with such visits in coordination with the International Scholars Office (ISchO) and the International Students Office (ISO). For very large collaborations, they will need advance notice to process visas and to assess MIT’s capacity to absorb visitors based on available lab space, offices, and housing.

International visitors require significant coordination among the ISchO, ISO, and departmental administrators. It is essential to provide adequate lead time for preparation. Some factors to consider include:

  • Where will they be physically located and is there sufficient space?
  • What visas and approvals are needed?
  • Who will be monitoring their activities?
  • Will visitors be taking classes, teaching, or conducting research?
  • Will they receive payment or stipend and will there be tax implications?
  • What kind of access will they have to information and facilities?
  • Are there training requirements?
  • Are there potential export control issues?
  • Have registration fees for visiting students been budgeted?
  • Who is responsible for the visitor’s health insurance?
  • Are sponsors and visitors aware of the need to assign intellectual property (IP) rights to MIT via the Inventions and Proprietary Information Agreements (IPIA) forms?

For additional information, speak with your dean’s office, the ISchO, the ISO, or the Technology Licensing Office (TLO) for IPIA questions.

What are the potential health and safety concerns/risks?


You should become familiar with the requirements and risks of international travel, and consider whether your planned activity might present any safety concerns, especially for students. It is also important to consider potential issues related to social, cultural, or political conditions.

Key resources include:

 Is there a specific lifetime envisioned for the project?


A discussion about this at the outset will help ensure that you and the sponsor have the same thing in mind. We are very good at initiating projects at MIT, but often have less information about the timeline for the project and eventual and appropriate phase-out.

Who are the external stakeholders?


Sponsors of international projects may take many forms, including governments, foundations, state-owned or independent corporations, or individuals. As with domestic projects, many major international engagements have a combination of sponsors.

For international projects, it is particularly important to understand the relationship between MIT and the sponsor(s), and any constraints that may impact your activities as a result of their status. In some cases foreign sponsors may not have a good understanding of MIT, including how funding research works (e.g. cost structures and procedures, overhead treatment, commitments to students and post-docs, etc.) and they may need background on these matters.

An Office of Strategic Alliances and Technology Transfer (OSATT) Catalyst or your Research Administrative Services (RAS) Contract Administrator, who are also represented on the International Coordinating Committee (ICC), can help you:

  • Identify key stakeholders.
  • Determine necessary approvals.
  • Facilitate the process.
  • Raise questions.

Who is the sponsor?


  • What is their reputation domestically and internationally?
  • Are they considered an ethical partner?
  • What is their relationship with their own government (for example, are they involved in military or classified work with their own government)?
  • How are they viewed by the U.S. Federal Government (e.g. are they on any Visual Compliance or other restricted party watchlists)?

What does the sponsor hope to achieve or receive in return for the funding?


Common answers include conducting interesting research, getting access to the newest ideas, identifying qualified students as potential employees, and/or enhancing its reputation by being able to say they are working with MIT. The question can lead to a very useful and beneficial discussion.

Additional Resources