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The government says the remote-learning policy will continue for spring. Plus, why don’t Americans study in China and new data on the international-talent pipeline.

Spring, Same as the Fall

One source of outstanding uncertainty was resolved this week: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that it would continue to permit international students to take remote or hybrid classes for the spring semester.

A DHS spokeswoman confirmed to me that students should “continue to abide” by emergency pandemic guidance that allows international students in the U.S. to take all or some of their courses online. Longstanding policy restricts student-visa holders to just a single online course a semester.

Other Covid-related provisions, such as relaxation of the rule that states students can be outside of the U.S. for no more than five months while maintaining active visa status, will also be extended.

With cases spreading, three dozen higher-ed associations had written to the department asking that the flexibility to study remotely be extended.

Why this matters: A large number of international students have remained in the U.S. during the pandemic and a reversion to the old policy would have put them in a bind: Take at least some in-person classes or leave the country.

The delay in announcing whether the pandemic guidance would be extended caused problems for both colleges and students. As class-registration deadlines approached, students were unsure whether they needed to have courses with an in-person component on their schedule. On campuses where instruction had gone mostly online, some administrators were trying to make sure there would be enough face-to-face courses to accommodate international students.

When I asked on Twitter before the DHS announcement about colleges’ approach, I found a near-even split. Some were scrambling to contingency-plan, while others were crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

What was consistent: Stress. Many feared a repeat of this summer, when the government unexpectedly announced a more-restrictive policy. That guidance was repealed after colleges sued.

What this doesn’t do: New international students — those who weren’t already enrolled in an American college when the Covid-19 outbreak began last March — aren’t extended the same flexibility. If their courses are wholly online, they won’t be permitted to enter the U.S., despite colleges’ lobbying to change this policy.

Watch this space: DHS didn’t put out an official statement on the spring semester but instead confirmed the policy in response to media queries. The spokeswoman the department will “update the FAQs as needed.”

To get in touch, find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

A Mighty Pipeline

International students pack a serious economic punch. But just-released data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics underscores their outsized impact on the American talent ecosystem, too: Four in 10 doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering last year went to a temporary-visa holder.

Over the past decade, the number of doctorates earned by international students has increased by 35 percent. Since 2000, they have doubled.

International doctoral students are disproportionately in science and engineering fields, including 92 percent of students from the top-sending country, China. From number-two India, the share was even greater, 94 percent.

Despite the visa challenges, most newly-minted PhD’s stay in America: Almost 80 percent of international graduates reported that their postdoc or first job was in the U.S., up from 75 percent in 2000.

Lopsided Mobility

For more than a decade, China has been the top source of international students in the United States. But the mobility doesn’t run both ways, at least not with the same intensity.

For every 30 Chinese students who come to the U.S., just one American studies in China. And the disparity is only growing — the number of American students in China has fallen more than 20 percent from the high point in the 2011–12 academic year, according to the most recent Open Doors report. That’s despite efforts to increase young Americans’ interest in China, such as 100,000 Strong in China.

Studying abroad isn’t the only way to learn about a country, its language, and its culture, of course. (With the pandemic, it isn’t even an option.) But it is a useful proxy. I asked Denis Fred Simon, who recently stepped down as executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan University, what he thought explained students’ declining interest in China, despite its increasing economic and geopolitical importance.

“Given the deterioration in the economic and political relationship, people don’t see it as a fruitful pathway,” he said. “Students today think, Let me invest in something else, where I’m going to get a better return. They learn a computer language instead of Chinese, or they study another part of the world.”

When Simon got hooked on China, he took all the classes he could and threw himself into learning the language. But he acknowledges that might not be the path today’s students take. Instead, appeal to students by emphasizing how understanding China is important to getting a complete picture of whatever field they are studying, be it international business or global energy problems, he told me:

”How do I integrate the Chinese situation into this larger, comprehensive worldview? What role does China play, either as a cause of the problem or as a potential source of the solution to a problem? By introducing more students through that route, we might be able to entice a few of them to invest at the next level, to learn the language, to go that much more deeply.”

I also spoke with Simon about how to better integrate international students on campus, what he thinks a Biden administration means for Sino-American higher-education collaboration, and how the pandemic could affect global education. Read the Q&A.

Meanwhile, Politico’s China Watcher newsletter asked China experts how to attract a new generation to study China. Their advice:

  • Increase funding for Chinese language studies and scholarships for study in China,
  • Restore the Fulbright programs in Hong Kong and mainland China,
  • Consider Taiwan as an alternative destination for language study,
  • Increase short-term immersive experiences, and
  • Explore how China is shaping and reshaping every field.

China isn’t the only place American students aren’t studying — 40 percent of all education-abroad participants go to just five countries, all in western Europe. The struggle to diversify destinations will almost certainly continue once overseas-study resumes. I’ll be writing about the post-pandemic future of study abroad. Tell me how you’re working to tackle both new and persistent challenges. Email me at

Pompeo: China ‘Poisoning the Well’

In a speech at Georgia Tech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took aim at what he said was the Chinese government’s pernicious influence on American campuses:

“Americans must know how the Chinese Communist Party is poisoning the well of our higher education institutions for its own ends,” he said.

That influence comes through various means, Pompeo argued: through Confucius Institutes and other vehicles of soft power; through American researchers and Chinese visiting scholars who obscure their ties; and through Chinese student associations, which he said take their cues from local consulates. American colleges, he suggested, look the other way when it comes to espionage, research theft, and censorship because they are “hooked on Chinese Communist Party cash.”

Pompeo decried how China’s long reach can silence Chinese students studying in America. But he also intimated that the government in Beijing “sends” nearly 400,000 students to learn from, and perhaps even steal, U.S. innovation. However, the vast majority of Chinese students are self-funded or receive scholarships and stipends from American colleges.

The Georgia Tech speech in many ways encapsulates the challenge facing U.S. universities: how to guard against legitimate security vulnerabilities while not cutting off important avenues of talent and research collaboration. As Georgia Tech’s president Ángel Cabrera asked Pompeo in a Q&A following his remarks: “How can we even frame these seemingly incompatible objectives of continuing to leverage that advantage to bring all that talent in without putting our national interest at risk?”

More reading: An investigation by Axios and the Aspen Institute found that a suspected Chinese intelligence operative posed as a California college student while building extensive ties to local and national politicians.

Around the Globe

The U.S. government imposed terrorism-related sanctions on an Iranian university it says uses global campuses for intelligence collection and recruitment.

The University of Canterbury dismissed complaints against a professor who had raised concerns about ties between New Zealand academics and Chinese universities.

Imprisoned Uighur scholar Rahile Dawut was named the first Open Society University Network honorary professor in the humanities.

Six in 10 undocumented college students in California report food insecurity and almost all have financial concerns, according to a new survey.

A Massachusetts man has been sentenced in connection with a scheme to defraud international students and private high schools by collecting tuition from families but not paying the schools.

Italy charged Egyptian security agents in a graduate student’s killing.

Forty of 56 Chilean universities could lose their accreditation and be forced to close under new guidelines proposed by a national accreditation commission.

The drop in international-student tuition at British universities is less than originally feared.

Cambridge professors have succeeded in amending a free-speech policy that they feared could have had a chilling effect on teaching and research.

Hong Kong police made arrests over a politically-charged university graduation ceremony.

Several scholars were recognized for their transnational research.

Universities in the U.S. and Mexico were selected as grant winners by the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund.

An Arizona State student, believed to be the only Chinese-born player in top-level college football, scored his first touchdown in a game Friday night.

And finally…

As the end of the year approaches, latitude(s) is going to take a holiday hiatus. As always, you can follow me on Twitter for updates and developments, and if events warrant, I’ll send out an emergency newsletter. Otherwise, I’ll be back in your in-box on Monday, January 4.

I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for reading along and for sharing your perspectives. I appreciate all tips, suggestions, and spirited disagreement, and your notes and messages never fail to brighten my day. I wish everyone a happy holiday, no matter how you celebrate.

See you in 2021! — 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.