February 21, 2013
It’s been almost a decade since I last visited New Orleans. I have to thank the AIEA (Association of International Education Administrators) http://www.aieaworld.org/ for hosting its annual national conference in the Big Easy this year. No visit to New Orleans is complete without a stop at the world famous Café du Monde for a plate of its freshly baked powered sugared confections and cup of café au lait. Given that most of my days at the conference were booked with meetings and sessions, I still managed to enjoy the city’s culinary fare (charbroiled oysters at Dragos, bananas Foster’s at the Palace Café) and even took a 45 minute cruise on the Natchez Steamboat with colleagues from various universities in the U.S. and around the world.
This year the conference theme was “Re-imagining Higher Education in a Global Context,” and several of the sessions I attended attempted to address this issue in roundtable or speaker settings. The keynote speaker, Eric Liu http://guidinglightsnetwork.com/bio, former White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, set the tone for the conference by emphasizing that innovation begins with imagination.
I attended sessions on topics like “Using Accreditation Standards to Internationalize,” “Global Changes and Challenges: Is the United States Doing Enough to Stay Competitive as a Study Destination.” But the session that I found most relevant was one about the “Pursuit of Academic Diplomacy in Iran: Challenges and Opportunities.” Gregory Sullivan and Kristen Cammarata with the U.S. State Department and Sara Kurtz Allaei from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis presented the session. According to the session’s presenters, it appears that the number of students from Iran seeking visas to study in the U.S. has risen from the low 1000’s in 2007 to the high 6000’s in 2011/12. The number of Iranian students enrolled at US institutions prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution was about 45,000. The EducationUSA https://www.educationusa.info/ advising center focusing on Iran reports an increase in the number of Iranians querying about studying at U.S. institutions. Sullivan mentioned that 14 specialists at the State Department are dedicated to the Iranian student project.
Specific conditions are in place for granting visas to Iranians planning to study in the U.S. According to Sullivan (paraphrased in this report): “visas are not granted to students or exchange programs relevant to sciences with a clear military, nuclear/energy component” or to groups or agencies with ties or affiliations to the Iranian government, terrorism or human rights abuses, or programs with commercial value that will benefit the Iranian government.” At this time, Iranian students accepted to U.S. colleges and universities must leave Iran for Dubai or Istanbul, Turkey to apply for their U.S. student visas, since U.S. and Iran do not enjoy diplomatic relations and have no embassy presence in their respective countries. We can look at the number of visas reportedly issued in 2011/12 as an indication of the U.S. State Department’s willingness to exercise openness in the visas granted to Iranian students and the Iranian government’s loosening of its hold on the youth.
Another interesting fact shared by Kristen Cammarata was that since the SAT is not offered in the region, many Iranian high school graduates instead take the GRE (Graduate Records Examinations, a test taken by students intending to apply for graduate school admission in the US) and scoring very high on the math section; further proof of how seriously motivated these young Iranians are in their pursuit of higher education in the U.S. Cammarata indicated that her office receives much of the inquiries from young Iranians via email and Skype. She also commented that the Iranian population in the U.S. has proven to be one of the most educated and successful of immigrants in this country’s history.
Sullivan mused that perhaps the government in Iran recognizes its shortcomings in satisfying its youth population with education and job opportunities by relaxing its grip and releasing the pressure valve and allowing some exchange through education (studying abroad in the U.S.). The pressure valve may be temporarily tightened during Iran’s upcoming Presidential elections, but to be relaxed once again after the new President has been elected.
Sullivan also noted that the US in turn will grant specific licenses to U.S. institutions wanting to engage in education, cultural, and sports exchange programs as well as topics concerned with human rights, the environment, health and medicine. Perhaps through academic diplomacy we can begin to see a thawing of the icy relations between Iran and the U.S. But I can’t help wonder how concerned the Iranian government may become when its youth heading west to the U.S. returning not only armed with their university degrees but an arsenal of information.
Partnering with my colleague Zepur Solakian, Executive Director of CGACC (www.cgacc.org), we held joint meetings with representatives from Washington State University (USA) http://www.wsu.edu/, Istanbul Bilgi University (Turkey) http://bilgi.edu.tr/en/university, and Swinburne University of Technology (Australia) http://www.swinburne.edu.au/. We discussed how the U.S. community colleges serve as a viable route to the four-year institutions for international students and the added benefits of international credential evaluations in the admission and transfer credit processes. With more exchanges on these topics, we feel community colleges can begin to become a significant venue for higher education in the international market alongside the four-year institutions.
The exhibit hall showcased exhibitors from China, South Korea, Italy, and companies like Zinch http://www.zinch.com/ a website connecting students with colleges, and Mezun http://www.mezun.com , an educational portal for Turkish students studying abroad.
Stay tuned for next week’s dispatch from Atlanta, Georgia where I’m co-presenting a workshop on “Best Practices in Recruitment and 2+2” at the CCID (Community Colleges for International Development) https://programs.ccid.cc/cci conference.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI