International Academic Collaboration Under Siege

When students and professors from different countries collaborate, the quality of the university scholarship improves concomitantly. Yet, many international students, particularly Chinese students, are less sure if they can complete their studies at U.S. universities, given current travel bans and changes to U.S. foreign policy. 

…as President Trump’s confrontation with Beijing over trade and security makes pursuing a U.S. education more difficult, Chinese students are increasingly considering schools in other English-speaking countries. 

Bloomberg News, October 2, 2019

According to The New York Times, President Trump plans to order the cancellation of nearly 3000 student visas for Chinese graduate students and researchers, who as undergraduates simply attended Chinese universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, citing concerns about the security of U.S. intellectual property. Furthermore, Trump administration officials are proposing reductions in the optional practical training (OPT) program, under which international students can apply to stay in the U.S. for three years to work after finishing their college studies, an incentive for many international students to attend U.S. universities. 

Gillian R. Hayes, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the University of California Irvine (UCI) Graduate Division, stated in a June 2 Chronicle of Higher Education webinar, that much of her efforts, even prior to the UCI campus being shuttered due to the COVID health emergency, was spent reassuring students about the security of their continued studies in UCI’s graduate programs. Additionally, Dr. Hayes discussed increased efforts lobbying for the continuation of programs, like OPT, so she had an additional recruitment tool for international graduate students.

University professors, who may be the greatest supporters of collaborating with international scholars in an attempt to improve the quality of their research and could be impacted by the new international policy changes regarding foreign nationals attending U.S. colleges to pursue graduate studies: 

The overarching fear is that Trump’s crackdown [like Federal scrutiny over international researchers ties to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army] will drive away top Chinese scholars and jeopardize the kind of open international collaboration that has been a hallmark of higher education in the U.S., contributing to world-class research and scientific progress.

Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2019

In addition to increasing the value of research, university officials’ efforts to recruit and retain international students typically pay full tuition and fees, are also an increasingly important source of university revenue, particularly those from China:

China has remained the largest source of international students for the US in the past decade, with 369,548 Chinese students enrolled in US higher education programmes in 2018, more than three times the count from nine years earlier, according to the Institute of International Education. The group together contributed US$15 billion in tuition payments.

South China Morning Post, April 23, 2020

While in the short-term, restricting the immigration of international students and their eventual employment in U.S. companies, we may theoretically increase the opportunities for American workers, as well as advance political agendas in economic trade battles with China. Yet in the longer term, we may hinder the work of the university researcher, thus materially affecting academic output which could minimize the positive impacts such research can provide. 

Finally, by limiting the numbers of international students, especially those from China, to study and reside in the US, we risk further broadening the separation between cultures that will diminish an otherwise noble effort to transform ignorance into understanding and further enlighten the human species. 

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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