(Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

The Risks Widen

This week marked the spread of the coronavirus as a truly global phenomenon, with large disease clusters appearing outside China, in Italy, Iran, and South Korea. Here in the U.S., the first cases emerged that appeared unrelated to foreign travel to at-risk regions.

For higher education, these developments change the calculus. China is, of course, an enormously important part of the world for American colleges, but it is, still, a part. It seems clear now that policies that isolate one country or region will no longer be sufficient. As new cases were reported, colleges acted swiftly. New York University shuttered its Florence campus for at least a month, while Syracuse brought its students in Italy back to the United States. George Mason and the University of Utah, which both have campuses outside Seoul, announced they were delaying the start of face-to-face classes. Wayne State suspended all its spring-break study-abroad trips. The Asia-Pacific Association for International Education Conference, scheduled for later this month in Vancouver, was canceled:

It isn’t only international education that is affected. With federal public-health officials warning that it’s a matter of when, not if, COVID-19 becomes widespread with the U.S., colleges have begun to put campus plans in place, readying communications strategies, cautioning students to use preventive health measures, and even preparing for possible closures.

The global nature of the coronavirus threat makes it distinctive from other challenges higher ed has faced. It also stands out because it has a lengthy time horizon, Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer of University of Southern California Student Health told me. Campus emergencies are often one-time events, such as a protest march or a snowstorm, in which the impact is felt for a discrete period of time. But a public-health crisis like a coronavirus outbreak could unfold over a much longer span, disrupting activities for weeks or even months. Experts say it’s possible that there could be two waves of the disease, with infections slowing during the warmer summer months and accelerating again in the fall.

Readers, I want to hear from you: How are you planning for potential medium- and long-term disruptions caused by COVID-19? Are you changing your international-recruitment plans? Rethinking study abroad? How will you keep up your global engagement if travel is curtailed? Tell me at latitudesnews@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • Last week I told you Australia could relax travel restrictions for some 100,000 Chinese students unable to return for the start of the semester. That now seems to be off the table. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison floated the idea of economic stimulus for hard-hit higher education.
  • A third of prospective international students could change their plans to study abroad, according to a new survey from QS.
  • COVID-19 could delay critical college-entrance exams in some Asian countries.

Betting on International Enrollments

Over the past decade, colleges across the United States embraced international recruitment as a way to increase revenues, rebrand their institutions, or raise their academic profiles. One college sought to jump-start its international enrollments in order to underwrite an ambitious building project. Another hoped going international would give it a distinctive edge amid other small, struggling liberal-arts colleges. In many cases, colleges signed contracts with private student-recruitment companies, offering lucrative fees if enrollment targets were met. But what once looked like a smart strategy now seems like less of a sure thing. In this week’s Chronicle, I write about colleges that went all-in on international and how they’re pivoting in the current challenging environment for overseas recruitment.

Support for International Grad Students

Last week I highlighted a piece by an international doctoral student on mental-health challenges, noting that there are no mental-health breaks for students on visas. Chalimar Swain, director of international student and scholar services at the University of Utah, wrote to say that while it can be more difficult for international students to take time off from their studies, it’s not impossible. “There are options for taking a break for mental-health reasons as an F-1 visa holder,” she wrote. “I’ve advised students through the process successfully many times.”

I included the piece, which focused on the specific challenges international students may face, because I think there’s not enough conversation about this important topic. I’d love to encourage more dialogue: Educators, what do you do to help support international students who may be experiencing serious stress or mental-health issues? I’ll share your responses and best practices in a future newsletter.

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Around the Globe

Another researcher has been arrested for failing to disclose his ties to China. Anming Hu, an engineering professor at the University of Tennessee, has been charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements.

The University of California at Santa Cruz fired 54 graduate assistants for striking. Those who are international students could lose their visas.

One in four U.S. employers said they lost or were unable to pursue a business opportunity because their workers lacked foreign-language skills.

The British government announced a new points-based system for study and work visas.

Academics in the UK have been denied permanent residency because of the length of time they spent doing fieldwork abroad.

Restrictions on Russian scientists’ engagement with foreign colleagues have been lifted.

How colleges encourage students to apply for Fulbright grants — and how it pays off.

Chinese academics’ publications in prestigious academic journals have soared in recent years. Now the government wants to reduce “excessive reliance” on such publications for job offers and research funding.

Graduates of an international academic program in Beijing say higher education needs to engage more with China: “Educational exchange programs provide one of the few avenues to explore how the party governs, and how Chinese society responds to that governance.”

And finally …

If this week’s newsletter looks a little lighter, it’s because I’m writing from vacation in Florida, where I’ve been spending critical “auntie” time: Catching spring training, playing video games, snuggling. (Also, my computer keyboard went kaput, but let’s focus on the positive!) I’ll catch you soon with lots more news — and who knows, maybe some Beyblades expertise.

’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.