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Exiting Erasmus

For higher education, there is at least one high-profile casualty of the down-to-the-wire Brexit deal: UK participation in Erasmus.

Instead of continuing to take part in the European Union’s signature academic-exchange program, the UK will start its own £100 million study-abroad initiative, Gavin Williamson, the education minister, announced after a new UK-EU trade deal was hammered out. Williamson said the new program, which will be named after mathematician and code breaker Alan Turing, better fit national priorities, such as ensuring that more disadvantaged students get an international-education opportunity.

Unlike Erasmus, Turing will focus solely on sending UK students abroad. A challenge for Erasmus has been that UK universities attracted nearly twice as many overseas students as they sent to other countries, which the government said was a costly imbalance. During a press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the mobility program “extremely expensive” and said the UK “more or less loses out on the deal.”

The withdrawal decision was criticized, with Scotland’s universities minister calling Turing “watered down.” Simon Marginson, a comparative-education expert at the University of Oxford, told me that “Brexit is such a backward step in many areas.”

Because, like Americans, relatively few UK students study abroad, their European classmates often introduce them to new cultures and perspectives. That exposure will be lost with the pullout from Erasmus, Marginson said:

“We roll the stone slowly up the hill. But before it can stabilize at the top, down it comes again, crashing past us and it rolls all the way to the bottom. We start over.”

Setting up new agreements in time for the 2021 academic year could be difficult to do, especially without reciprocity of exchange. As this Twitter thread spells out, among the many hurdles are negotiating credit transfer and navigating academic bureaucracy:

Amid protracted negotiations around British withdrawal from the EU, some universities had been working to strengthen international relationships on the institutional level. I spoke with Anton Muscatelli, the principal of the University of Glasgow, last year before the final deal was done. “We are working very strongly at cementing those bilateral links,” he said.

That means focusing not just on Europe but globally, Muscatelli said. Glasgow has signature partnerships around the world, including with the University of California, to exchange students and scholars, to offer joint programs, and to conduct research.

As part of the Brexit deal, the UK will remain part of Horizon Europe, which supports international research collaboration.

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International Students Ineligible for Aid

International and undocumented students are ineligible to receive emergency grants through a recently-approved coronavirus stimulus package.

The legislation kept in place a U.S. Department of Education rule that limits Covid assistance to students who participate in federal student-aid programs. That prevents international and undocumented students, as well as those who have defaulted on student loans or have minor drug convictions, from receiving funds.

The restriction was not in an initial Covid measure passed by Congress last spring, but the Trump administration narrowed eligibility when it released rules for distributing grants. Congressional aides told the Washington Post that they hope to repeal the provision when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Readers on International Ed in 2021

2020 was a disruptive, even devastating, year for international education. A flip of the calendar is by no means a reset, but with vaccines being slowly rolled out, there is hope that 2021 could bring a resumption of global mobility and some relief to the field. I’ve already been doing reporting about the state of international education, post-pandemic. Look for more from me in the weeks to come.

One teaser: A central tension seems to be between those anxious to get back to the way things were and those who see the coronavirus as a chance to shake things up. Whichever ethos prevails, it seems to me, could shape international education into the future.

Meanwhile, I asked on Twitter and LinkedIn about readers’ predictions for 2021 — what they expect, what they hope for or what they fear, their biggest unanswered questions. Here’s some of what you told me:

Colleges must send a message that the U.S. is a welcoming place for students from around the globe:

You wondered: Will the incoming Biden administration mark a policy shift from four years under President Trump?

Put students at the center of international-education work, many of you said. Amy Bello of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus shared on LinkedIn that “my hope for 2021 is that the field moves away from the financial value of our work to our institutions to a more student-focused approach. How are we as international educators supporting our students’ goals and those of internationalization? How are our institutions recognizing this importance as well? How are our students experiencing the world and how are we helping them process their experience?”

The damage to the student recruitment pipeline could be “significant,” Arthur Chin wrote me from the Universal College of Learning in New Zealand. The economic toll of the pandemic could leave fewer families able to afford an overseas degree, and longstanding destinations will face growing competition from regional universities in Asia and transnational education providers, he said.

Likewise, students could turn increasingly to up-and-coming destinations, such as Ireland, Austria, and even China, which previously was seen as a sender of students, Sam Fleischmann of Duolingo predicted. Emily Dobson, a college counselor in Brazil, agreed that she is seeing a shift, which she dubbed the “geoswerve.” (Stealing this term!)

Students will choose the mode of study that best works for them, said Janet Ilieva of Education Insight. For some, that may be traditional international study, but others may turn to hybrid models, including online study or with a partner campus closer to home. Technology also could be here to stay in English-language learning:

The connection between international education and employability needs to be clearer and more explicit, argued Louise Niccol, the founder of Asia Careers Group: “Employability data will be the new ‘must have’ for International education in 2021…. It will no longer be all about inputs, with the majority of budgets and resources focused purely on recruitment; time for the tables to turn and a renewed focus on outputs.”

Christopher Connor of the University of Buffalo warned that colleges “must not be complacent in making adjustments to our curricular offerings and continue to invest more in professional development support services for our International students.” And New America’s Shalin Jyotishi concurred that international-education leaders play an important role in preparing graduates for the post-pandemic economy:

Finally, Patrick Arsenault, who runs a nonprofit consortium that promotes Ontario colleges and universities globally, observed that with campus life limited and travel halted, many stranded international students came to rely more on their local communities: “Increasingly internationalization will become more about communities adapting to welcome, support, and integrate international students (especially in rural settings).”

Thanks to all of you who chimed in — again, I’ll be returning to many of these themes more fully in future newsletters and in my reporting elsewhere. Please keep the ideas coming! You can send your thoughts about the future of international ed to me at

Around the Globe

The U.S. Department of State is temporarily loosening in-person interview requirements for visa applicants amid the pandemic.

White House adviser Hope Hicks is the Trump administration’s latest appointee to the board overseeing the Fulbright Program.

Higher-education groups criticized the Department of Education’s “combative approach” to reporting foreign gifts and contracts, including threats to withhold federal student aid to universities it says aren’t compliant.

The Ed Department opened an investigation into the University of Alabama’s relationship with Wuhan Institute of Virology, but closed an inquiry into the University of Texas’ foreign ties.

A federal judge sided with Purdue and other universities in a lawsuit challenging policy changes to H-1B skilled worker visas.

A British-Iranian scholar who is an expert on women’s rights has been jailed in Iran.

In India, a prominent historian and her scholarship have come under attack from Hindu nationalists.

Campus culture wars have come to France.

An Emerson College graduate who started a campaign for Hong Kong identity is leaving her Hong Kong home after her activism raised concerns about her safety.

New visa sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials may prevent their children from coming to the U.S. for college.

The president of Imperial College London has publicly apologized for bullying colleagues.

And finally…

How were your holidays? Mine were pretty low-key. I moved just a few days before Christmas, so it was welcome to have a sort-of respite to get settled. As I write this, fog has laid in so thick that I can barely see the neighbors. But on a clear day, here’s my new view…

’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.