(Photo by NASA on Unsplash.)

A Crisis In the Making?

Is the coronavirus outbreak the biggest crisis to hit international education?

That’s the argument a pair of academics are making. Lyn Tran and Christopher Ziguras compared coronavirus to recent geopolitical emergencies, pandemics, and other events in terms of its effect on international students. In the years after September 11th, for example, the number of overseas students in the U.S. fell by about 21,000 due to tightening visa restrictions and other barriers. More recently, many of the 12,000 Saudi students studying in Canada left under orders of the Saudi government, the result of a rupture between the two countries. Bigger still was the decrease in Iranian students after the 1979 hostage crisis, an example not cited by the researchers. Iran had been the largest source of international students in America before the hostage-taking; within five years, their numbers had plummeted 70 percent.

The pool of students affected by the coronavirus could be even greater, and the impact could be felt especially acutely in Australia, where both Ziguras and Tran are based. Because of the Australian academic schedule, as many as 100,000 Chinese students studying in Australia are now back home for summer vacation and the Lunar New Year. Like the United States, Australia has temporarily banned non-citizen travelers from China, and it seems doubtful that the prohibition will be lifted in time for the start of the academic year at the end of the month.

As in the U.S., Chinese students are far and away the largest international student group in Australia. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said coronavirus could cost Australian universities more than $3 billion, or $2 billion U.S., in lost tuition and fees. The head of a task force appointed to respond to the impact of the coronavirus and the Australian wildfires said the hit to higher ed there could be more than double that amount.

In other coronavirus news:

  • Educators aren’t just dealing with health concerns on campus. They’re also combatting xenophobia related to the outbreak. At Queen’s University, in Canada, Chinese students are calling on administrators to invest more in cultural education following a coronavirus-themed party.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance for how to handle student-visa issues stemming from the coronavirus.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has authorized an emergency coronavirus test.
  • China has enrolled increasing numbers of students from abroad. Now many of them are stranded in the middle of the outbreak.
  • Last week, I asked how small colleges were coping with coronavirus. Christina Sanchez of California Lutheran University wrote me that professional networks and listservs have been valuable resources, including NAFSA, SECUSSA, and other Southern California international-student advisers. Cal Lutheran has six students stuck in China because of the Lunar New Year and is working to provide online courses, she said.

Finally, I reached out to some students I met recently at Duke-Kunshan University for a perspective on how the coronavirus is affecting students in China. Here’s what they had to say:

I chose to stay on campus until it reopens. My hometown is Qingdao, Shandong, which has not been severely infected and is not close to Wuhan, Hubei, or my college. On January 20, when human-to-human transmission was officially confirmed by experts, my friends and I went on an online hunt for N95 masks. We ordered 60 masks from U.S. Amazon and minutes later, they were all gone. Once again impressed by Chinese people’s purchasing power, we discussed how bad the virus was going to be until 3 a.m. I canceled my gaotie (high-speed train) ticket home on the afternoon of the 22nd, one day before Chinese New Year’s Eve. I could not take the risk of getting involved in the largest human migration in the world and bringing some unknown virus home, especially to my grandparents. The safest and optimal option for me was to stay, study, and exercise on campus.

During this quarantine period, most students, faculty, and staff are not allowed to leave and return to campus unless for medical reasons. We are not allowed to order take-out food or groceries as we normally do. However, the inconvenience arouses our interest in cooking, and we learn to make our food with limited resources. I cook, eat, skateboard, play ping-pong and badminton. We are not really allowed to “gather,” which means we need to keep a distance of two meters from another person. None of the activities except cooking is “gathering.” I actually appreciate the unexpected vacation as it slows down our life pace. When the outbreak just started, several students organized donation for hospitals in Hubei province. People were trying to make real contribution rather than sitting home terrified by rumors and the disease. People who went home left enormous food, especially fruit. Not few people left their door open so that we can water their plants. We trust each other and trust is the most important thing in hardship like this. I see real kindness and unity in my classmates, people with whom I will share four years of life. I am sure that this unforgettable experience has already been a precious memory of my college life.

–Joy Xiao

We think it’s important to get the inside perspective out there because at the very least, there is something we can all take away from this epidemic and how smaller communities have demonstrated remarkable empathy and solidarity — things the world can always use more of….

We realized regardless of the fact that we were from such different backgrounds culturally, socially, economically, the bond we shared was reflective of something unique that only a highly cross-cultural community could foster. Within minutes students planned for the upcoming time period with whatever information they had available. As people were worrying about rationing food, they were concerned about their friends. You would walk down any hallway in the dorms and hear people asking others if they were OK or if they needed anything. Those whose travel plans were confirmed gave everything they could, from food to sanitary napkins, to those who were staying back.

DKU’s student volunteer organization DKU Home has initiated a fundraising campaign with a collaborative effort from NYU-Shanghai and Dulwich International High School. As of February 1, the campaign has successfully raised 260,970 RMB that was then used to purchase and transport medical supplies to Hubei, turning the concern and kindness into real efforts to fight the epidemic.

– Zarfishar Tayyab & Wanying He

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Judge Blocks Trump Policy on International Students

A federal judge has permanently enjoined Homeland Security from enforcing its “unlawful presence” policy, which could bar international students from the U.S. for relatively minor visa infractions. In the ruling, the judge said that the Trump administration failed to follow proper notice-and-comment procedure in promulgating the policy. The permanent nationwide injunction follows a temporary one in May. Plaintiffs in the unlawful presence case and members of Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration praised the judge’s decision. “International students and the campuses that depend on them are breathing a sigh of relief today,“ said Jane Fernandes, president of Guilford College.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that this was a ruling about the process, not the merits — the Trump adminstration didn’t follow proper regulatory procedure in drafting its memo on unlawful presence. The government can now come back with new regs.

Need to catch up on what unlawful presence is and why it’s a big deal for international students? Read this.

Around the Globe

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of Chinese “infilitration” in a speech to the National Governors Association, singling out colleges as a point of vulnerability.

The Trump administration has dropped an emergency collection form for information from colleges about gifts and contracts from foreign sources. The government plans to develop and resubmit a new form.

Northwestern University canceled an event on its Qatar campus featuring a gay speaker after online backlash sparked safety concerns. It will instead hold the discussion in the U.S.

A quarter of trustees at private, nonprofit colleges think “too little time” is spent recruiting international students. Twenty percent of public-college board members feel the same way.

The $50,000 monthly stipend a Harvard professor received from a Chinese-government talent-recruitment program was a “corrupting level of money,” prosecutors said.

Chinese students at Johns Hopkins started a petition to block Hong Kong pro-democracy activists from speaking at the university.

Sri Lanka wants to attract more foreign branch campuses.

Critics are alarmed by a contract that binds a leading German university to obey Chinese law, potentially giving the Chinese government leverage to block teaching on controversial subjects.

More than a million British students could be affected as lecturers plan a strike over pay and pensions.

A Canadian university has invited a senior executive at Facebook as a visiting scholar to work on a project on election integrity despite criticism of the social media platform’s role in the spread of disinformation in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

A task force that drafted a framework for reviewing global engagements in academic research doesn’t seem to have included any international administrators.

What it’s like to study immigration in the Trump era.

Have news to share? Email me at latitudesnews@gmail.com, send me a note on LinkedIn, or tweet me.

And finally…

Iowa was the political center of gravity last week, as reporting snafus and technological breakdowns led to delays and confusion about the winner in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus. What did that look like through Chinese students’ eyes? The BBC caught up with a group of young “democracy tourists,” there to see the American political system in action. One student characterized politics as “a game that everyone in the U.S. plays — a game with high participation but low efficiency, given America’s partisan gridlock. But he still appreciates it. ‘The U.S. is a great country,’ he said, ‘because it successfully created a system that lets everyone be a part of it.’”

’Til next week –Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.