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American colleges aren’t alone in getting caught up in tensions with China. Plus, recommendations for supporting international students during covid and how academic freedom is missing from university rankings.
On Wednesday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came into the department’s briefing room to talk about China and higher education. He announced a new policy that would require any Chinese diplomat to get U.S. government permission before setting foot on an American college campus, something he framed as a matter of reciprocity. U.S. dipomats, he said, are “regularly obstructed” from visiting universities in China. And he reiterated concerns raised in a State Department letter to college governing boards, warning them of the “threats the Chinese Communist Party poses to academic freedom, to human rights, and to university endowments.”
The secretary’s remarks seemed part and parcel of the Trump administration’s tough-on-China strategy, which has increasingly included measures that affect higher education. But American colleges are not alone in being pulled into geopolitical tensions with China.
The Indian government recently announced it would require Chinese academics to go through additional security screening to get visas. It is also reviewing dozens of MOUs Indian universities have signed with counterparts in China. Sino-Indian academic partnerships could be “drastically scaled down,” one Indian official told Bloomberg.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seeking the power to veto or scrap agreements that universities or local governments sign with foreign entities. Although the proposed legislation applies to foreign partnerships broadly, it understood to be directed at China, as tensions between the two countries have risen. Australian officials have questioned universities’ ties to China, including Confucius Institutes, the Chinese-funded language and cultural centers on college campuses, and a research collaboration between Monash University and a Chinese state-owned company that has been accused of economic espionage.
Speaking to reporters, Morrison said that Australia needed to “protect” itself from foreign interference. But the Group of Eight, Australia’s leading research universities, warned that the bill could interfere with their global collaborations, saying that it “may not be proportionate to risk, may lead to over regulation, and could undermine the good work that has been undertaken between universities and the Government in this area to date.”
There can be the instinct in the U.S. to view issues as ours alone, and certainly, the current administration has been aggressive in stance toward China. (I’ll have more reporting on that this week, in fact.) But around the globe, universities and researchers are finding themselves caught up in the fraying relations between their home countries and China. Before the pandemic, national higher-education associations had begun to meet to compare notes on China and their countries’ response.
The scrutiny may not be universal, but it is global.
Meanwhile, it’s been a busy few weeks on the China investigations front:
- The FBI charged a Chinese researcher at UCLA with destroying evidence to obstruct an investigation after he was observed throwing a damaged hard drive into a dumpster outside his apartment.
- Officials arrested a researcher at the University of Virginia just before he boarded a flight to China on allegations of accessing a computer without authorization and theft of trade secrets.
- A Texas A&M professor is accused of hiding his affiliations with a Chinese university and a Chinese company, a violation of a grant he had to lead a research team for NASA.
- The University of North Texas canceled visas for 15 Chinese researchers after it severed ties with the Chinese Scholarship Council. A spokesman said the university took action based on “specific and credible information following detailed briefings from federal and local law enforcement.” More than 5,000 people have signed a petition asking the university to reconsider its decision to end the exchange program.
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International Students Called Vulnerable
The American College Health Association has singled out international students as a campus population that has been disproportionately affected by the the coronavirus pandemic:
“Without support of families within the area, they are at high risk for isolation, particularly during the shelter in place phase of the pandemic. The racism, stigma, and xenophobia, particularly towards Asian people or people perceived to be Asian are also affecting mental well-being,” the group notes in its guidelines for supporting vulnerable students.
Among ACHA’s recommendations:
- Offer peer or professional counseling support groups for international students.
- Ensure counseling and medical staff are trained to provide culturally competent care and services.
- Provide common and essential patient education, prevention/health initiatives, and resource documents in the top 10 languages based on student enrollment and community demographics.
You can read more of the suggested guidelines. What are you doing at your institution to support international students during the pandemic, both those on campus and those learning remotely? Tell me for a future article, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read this! Marjon Saulon, an international student at the University of California at San Diego, offers concrete steps college officials and local leaders can take to make international students feel like part of the community. “We don’t want to just hear you say ‘you are welcome,’” he writes, “but to show us that we truly are.”
Rankings and Academic Freedom
For the first time, a Chinese institution, Tsinghua University, has cracked the top 20 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. In all, six mainland Chinese universities, plus three in Hong Kong, placed in the among the world’s 100 best.
China’s rapid ascent up the rankings is a notable story line. But even as the country has invested in improving academic and research quality, it has limited academic freedom. Can a university truly be great if it restricts thought?
I explored the seeming disconnect between debates over academic freedom and perceptions of academic excellence when last year’s rankings were published. Relatedly, U-Multirank, which allows users to create custom rankings based on information from nearly 1,800 universities worldwide, has released its latest data.
NAFSA Focuses on Climate Issues
NAFSA has named a new cohort of senior fellows — and this year, they all have expertise in climate change and sustainability. They “provide strong intellectual and practical experience that will prove crucial for NAFSA’s contribution to educators’ efforts to create a more sustainable environment through shared research and collaboration,” Esther Brimmer, NAFSA’s executive director, said in announcing the appointments.
The emphasis on sustainability signals NAFSA’s intention to grapple with what has been a sometimes contentious issue for the field: Students, domestic and international alike, consider climate change a pressing priority, yet global mobility, at least until the covid outbreak, is a hallmark of international education. NAFSA’s decision elevates the discussion around sustainability, and I will be curious to see what comes of it.
Take a deeper dive: Earlier this spring I hosted a roundtable discussion on sustainability and the challenge for higher ed for the Climate Action Network for International Education. (Janet Ilieva, a featured speaker and transnational education expert, is a new NAFSA fellow, as is Ailsa Lamont, a CANIE co-founder.) Check out a recording of the conversation:
Around the Globe
The State Department will waive in-person interview requirements for some visa applicants as part of an effort to reduce covid transmission and exposure.
Participants in OPT who have not reported employer information and who have exceeded 90 days of unemployment will have to update their visa records or leave the country.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it would reject all new DACA applications. A group of young undocumented immigrants filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to scale back the program.
Just-released data shows a small pre-pandemic decline, of 1.7 percent, in student-visa numbers in the U.S. in 2019, with all four of the top-sending countries, including China and India, experiencing minor decreases.
Germany says it won’t give visas to international students whose courses are entirely online.
Harvard offered a one-year research appointment to a dissident professor fired from his post at Tsinghua University, but the offer is largely symbolic because Xu Zhangrun is barred from leaving China.
Professors and students at Peking University will have to get permission to participate in online conferences 15 days in advance.
Renowned economist Thomas Piketty rejected China’s demands to cut part of his latest book if he wanted it published there.
Administrators at Hungary’s University of Theatre and Film Arts resigned in protest after the government placed the institution under control of loyalists to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
AIRC, which advocates for standards-based international student recruitment and the use of agents, has named a new executive director.
ACT has canceled international test administrations for December and February because of the coronavirus and other safety concerns.
India’s Supreme Court ruled that all final exams must be held by September 30, despite student requests for flexibility because of covid.
Ghana will open a university focused on environment and climate change.
Millions of university students in Latin America are abandoning their studies because of the pandemic, threatening to reverse hard-won progress in educational attainment.
Is the Great Firewall turning China’s Gen Z into nationalists?
International education has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. As many international students pursue their studies online this semester, study abroad and foreign exchange programs have been canceled. In a world with little travel, closed borders, and surging infections, many are asking: What is next for international higher ed?
Join me on Monday, September 14 at 2 p.m. ET for a Chronicle of Higher Education virtual forum on the future of international education. I’ll be leading a panel of experts and college leaders to discuss integrating international perspectives into the curricula, creating global experiences that do not involve study abroad, innovating online programs for the current environment, and more. Sign up!
’Til next week — Karin