December 30th, 2017
This time last year, I wrote a blog about the benefits of international students in the U.S. and it goes without saying that the message still holds true as it did then.
In another blog we wrote this past August, we offered the reasons why international students are good for the U.S. Without repeating the message of the blog, we can all agree that besides the financial benefits derived from having international students in the U.S., not just for the tuition and fees, but the economic impact they have on the community through their buying power, there are also invaluable scientific innovation and technological improvements introduced by these students as well significant social and cultural contributions. Unfortunately, these positive attributes are not being voiced or shared by those in office today.
2017 has been a remarkable and tumultuous year on many fronts. While our country waded through a bruising presidential election, those of us in international education quickly found ourselves faced with uncertainty. The travel ban, stricter visa requirements and rising anti-immigrant sentiments placed our schools, universities and educational service providers in a precarious position. Our universities quickly spurred into action with messages of “You are welcome,” and our towns and cities offered themselves as sanctuaries for those suddenly finding themselves criminalized or thought of as the “other.”
While the current administration in the U.S. taking a more nativist stand suspecting anyone “foreign,” countries like Canada and Australia have amplified their message of openness and hospitality and attracting record number of international students.
Last month, at the international conference held at the University of California, Berkeley in the U.S. at the panel session on Asia in the New Nationalism and Universities, these very issues were raised and discussed. As stated by moderator Marijk van der Wende, professor of higher education at Utrecht University’s faculty of law, economics and governance in the Netherlands: “The recent geopolitical events such as Brexit and US turning its back on multilateral trade and cooperation, create waves of uncertainty in higher education regarding international cooperation, the free movement of students, academics, scientific knowledge and ideas.”
We are beginning to see countries that were once exporters of students to study abroad are now restructuring themselves to be the receivers of international students. China, for example, is seriously considering to step into the fray by strengthening its universities and bolstering its program offering and research facilities so it too can fill the void and position itself as an attractive alternative destination for study abroad.
India, another giant in the number of students it sends abroad for study, is also looking at positioning itself just like its neighbor China, as a country for international students seeking higher education. In fact, just recently, it was announced that a total of 100 of India’s top universities and colleges are vying to be named ‘institutions of eminence’ as part of the country’s higher education reforms to upgrade a select number of institutions into ‘world-class’ universities within the next 10 years. This will ensure that these top ranking “institutions of eminence” will have autonomy–without involvement from the University Grants Council (UGC)–to select faculty, administrators, design and development of curriculum and academic programs to be on a par with international higher education standards.
The jockeying for being number one in international higher education also means that some countries are considering to radically change the structures of their degree programs to appeal to international students looking for a less expensive and faster track to a degree. One example is the UK, which has held the top position in enrollment numbers of international students. The numbers, however, have dropped because of the recent Brexit vote and its strong nationalistic message. However, there is talk in the UK to reduce and compress its three-year Bachelor’s degree into two years in hopes to make the degree more affordable. An international student looking to study abroad where money is an issue may find the two-year intensive bachelor’s degree from the UK more palatable than its four-year counterpart in the U.S. or Canada.
At this time, it is difficult to gauge exactly how much of a negative impact the U.S. anti-globalism and anti-immigration sentiments will have on the number of international students seeking higher education in the U.S. There are already reports that the number are on the decline. Most likely, we will see the impact in 2018. In the meantime, knowing what actions and steps other players in the field have undertaken or considering and looking for ways institutions can restructure and enhance their programs, as well as recruitment and retention practices, is crucial if universities in the U.S. wish to remain competitive and relevant in the next 10 years. Of course, it will also help if there is a friendlier administration in office that views our universities as an important fabric of U.S. culture, and sees international students as assets and not liability.
As cliché as it is, we are navigating uncharted waters. As professionals in the field of international education, I thank you for your continued commitment and all that you do to deliver on our shared purpose for keeping international education vital and an integral part of our existence both as citizens of this great country but of the globe. It is because of you, and because we know we can do so much more, that I have such great confidence in the future. Despite what challenges may lie ahead, I remain hopeful and ask you to do the same but do not become complacent, become an advocate for higher education and let your voice be heard on your campus and in the halls of Congress. Contact your representatives daily, write blogs, send letters to editors of your local newspapers, hold townhall meetings with members of your communities, speak with your neighbors, and share with them the myriad of success stories of international students at your institutions and highlight their accomplishments and achievements. Stay proactive and engaged!
In closing, from the entire crew at ACEI, we wish you season’s greetings and a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).
The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.