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A clear answer isn’t always the one you want to hear.

That’s the lesson of the latest student-visa policy guidance, released Friday by the Department of Homeland Security. After federal officials had withdrawn an earlier policy in the face of court challenges, colleges had urged the publication of an updated FAQ that would state that all students, both new and continuing, be permitted to come to the U.S. to study this fall, regardless of whether their classes are in-person, hybrid, or online. Instead, DHS clarified that new students won’t be allowed into the country if their classes are wholly online. (It also affirmed that if colleges switch to remote learning midsemester, students in the U.S. will be permitted to stay, a more welcome piece of news.)

In short, the resolution of the Harvard-MIT court case was a victory for some international students but not for others. There are now effectively two student-visa policies.

Sarah Spreitzer, director of government relations for the American Council on Education, said it was disappointing that the new guidance did not give students greater flexibility for fall, given the uncertainty they face. While students can take remote classes from their home countries doing so could be difficult because of time differences, connectivity problems, and local censorship, she said.

At the moment, just 12 percent of colleges will be all-online, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education tracker. But that list grows longer daily, as colleges that had planned for face-to-face teaching walk it back. And in a number of states, governors have yet to give the go-ahead for campuses to reopen, no matter colleges’ plans. This raises the possibility that a new student could apply for a visa for in-person or hybrid study, only to have her college shift to remote learning before classes even begin. What then? It might be better not to ask.

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The Cost of Tensions with China

The political temperature between the United States and China is approaching a boiling point — and American colleges could get burned.

The U.S. government ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston closed, citing economic espionage and attempted theft of scientific research, and Beijing retaliated by shutting down the American outpost in the city of Chengdu. China watchers watched the rapidly deteriorating relations with alarm, with one warning, “Prepare for the worst.”

Back in the very first issue of this newsletter, I wrote about the looming threat of declining Chinese enrollments. Today, the shadow hanging over higher education is growing.

new working paper from the Center for Global Development projects that a Sino-American trade war could come with an enormous price tag for higher ed, more than $1 billion in lost tuition. That estimate actually predates the current hostility — the researchers calculate that a tariff increase of 20 percentage points imposed in 2018 could cost U.S. universities around 30,000 Chinese students over the next 10 years, a loss of equivalent to $1.15 billion in tuition revenue. And they say that their figure is likely an underestimate of the costs because it doesn’t factor in the spillover effects of international students on their local economies.

Already, the researchers note, growth rates for Chinese-student enrollments have fallen from an average of 22 percent annually to just 5 percent. With the pandemic, travelers from China, including students, are not permitted to come to the U.S.

If higher ed could be something of an accidental casualty of the broader geopolitical tensions, legislation that won approval from a key Senate committee is aimed at American universities specifically. The Safeguarding American Innovation Act would increase requirements for reporting foreign contracts and gifts and could make it easier for the State Department to deny visas to international students. Though “China” doesn’t appear in the bill’s text, it follows a Senate investigation into colleges’ relationships with China.

In arguing for the bill’s passage, its principal sponsor decried what he sees as higher ed’s naivete:

ACE and other associations have expressed concern about some of the measure’s provisions. An amended version won approval by the Homeland Security committee, but updated language has not yet been posted.

In other China-related news:

  • A group of current Fulbrighters and alumni are circulating a petitionprotesting the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the flagship international exchange program in Hong Kong and mainland China. Sign it here.
  • As part of an ongoing federal investigation into colleges’ China ties,four researchers were charged with visa fraud for concealing their connections to the Chinese military.
  • A former West Virginia University professor admitted to defrauding the university and filing a false tax return, both offenses the result of his official travel to China. Qingyun Sun also acted as an assistant to the state’s governor on China affairs.

Around the Globe

Forty-four former U.S. ambassadors signed a letter opposing restrictions on J-1 exchange visas.

The Association for Asian Studies is warning colleges to weigh “technological, pedagogical, and moral considerations” when using videoconferencing platforms like Zoom to teach remotely in China.

A House foreign-affairs spending bill includes $2 million for international academic, cultural, and professional exchanges for HBCUs.

The House has voted to repeal President Trump’s original travel ban.

The Canadian government is telling some international students not to come to the country until travel restrictions are lifted.

Japan is tightening the screening of foreign students and researchers as part of an effort to safeguard research.

South Africa’s higher-education minister has ordered an independent review of the University of South Africa, Africa’s largest distance-education institution.

Pakistani scholars seen as insufficiently supportive of the military or promoting secularism are being forced out of university appointments.

China wants to criminalize college exam fraud after incidents of identity theft.

Draft regulations would require foreign teachers in China to be taught about the country’s laws and order them to refrain from “harming China’s national sovereignty, honor, and public interests.”

A new report says universities should be ranked on their global social impact.

See any global education news I might have missed? Email me at

And finally…

I dare you to find me the person who hasn’t felt like screaming at least once lately.

Iceland wants you to let it all out. The country’s tourism board has launched a new campaign inviting visitors to record their screams, shouts, and yells of frustration; the recordings will then be played in one of a half-dozen picturesque locations across the country.

Let it Out

“Across the world, people have been through a lot in the last few months,” said the head of Visit Iceland. “We empathize and want to do what we can to help people relieve their frustrations.”

’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.