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How They See Us

Imagine you’re a parent in India whose son or daughter is thinking about studying in the United States. You sit down to breakfast and open the newspapers. There’s a banner headline on the Times of India (circulation 15 million) above a photo of D.C. National Guard members in riot gear. “Coup Klux Klan,” it reads, “Don Triggers Mob & Rob Bid.”

You shuffle the papers. “Ignited State of America,” blares the Hindustan Times. “Biden Win Confirmed Among Pro-Trump Mob Attack,” says the Hindu. The Indian Express’s take: “Trump’s Demockracy.”

How do you feel about sending your kid to America?

Like many of you this past week, I’m heartbroken, I’m angry, I’m exhausted. I’m amazed at my capacity to be shocked any longer, but I am.

But this is a newsletter about international education, so I’ll focus on that. Viewing Wednesday’s riots through that lens, well, it isn’t good.

In recent weeks, I’ve been talking with people about the future of international education, about whether the damage done to America’s reputation overseas can be repaired. Could the transition to a new year, the swearing-in of a new administration help restore the standing of U.S. higher education as a — the — sought-after destination?

Unfortunately, the assault on the Capitol could instead reinforce much of what concerns prospective students and their parents. An attack on the very heart of U.S. government underscores the ongoing political uncertainty. Images of tear gas, the shooting of a protestor, unexploded bombs planted around D.C., all support the narrative of America as unsafe. And a man with a Confederate flag roaming the Ohio Clock corridor — it paints an ugly picture for those worried about American racism and xenophobia.

Nonetheless, some of you told me that you were holding on to hope that the Biden administration could usher in a new era of openness. That you were committed to working even harder to communicate to international students: We want you here.

But I also heard from a number of students and parents: We’re not so sure.

What’s clear, I think, is that even if there is a new occupant in the White House, the fault lines remain. President Trump will leave office, but some Americans will still embrace his ethos of grievance, his us vs. them posture.

For international ed, President-elect Biden could mean new policies. Perceptions, though, may be slower to change.

Got feedback? Ideas for coverage? You can reach me at or message me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

H1-B Rule Finalized

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has published a final rule that will end the longstanding lottery for H-1B work visas and replace it with a process that favors higher-paid foreign workers.

The Trump administration said the change would protect workers from exploitation while ensuring that Americans aren’t displaced by cheaper labor from abroad. In comments, the government dismissed higher education’s concerns that the policy would undercut colleges’ ability to recruit international students, especially compared to countries like Canada and Australia that make it easier for international graduates to stay and work. It also rejected the argument that the regulation could make it tougher for institutions to hire talented researchers and professors.

But just how final is this final rule? That’s not so clear. There are procedural issues that could lead to legal challenges, and the Biden administration could halt its implementation. With Democratic Senate wins in Georgia, Congress could also use the Congressional Review Act to eliminate this and other midnight-hour regs. Stay tuned.

GAO: New Policies Needed on Foreign Ties

A report by the General Accountability Office says that U.S. government agencies need to flesh out and clarify their policies for monitoring the foreign ties of the researchers they fund.

The congressional watchdog recommends that the five agencies that are the major funders of academic research adopt explicit and uniform policies on what grantees must do to comply with federal laws in these areas:

  • financial conflicts of interest;
  • nonfinancial conflicts that include unrealistic time commitments or duplication of research; and
  • disclosure of all sources of research funding, both foreign and domestic.

The report could renew bipartisan calls in Congress to toughen scrutiny of American universities’ foreign-research collaborations, particularly those with China. Lawmakers and intelligence officials fear that China is exploiting lax oversight to improperly access proprietary American research.

Around the Globe

USCIS is blaming delays in processing of paperwork for international students’ work authorizations on an increase in filings and postal service volume.

A University of Chicago PhD student from China was killed in a deadly shooting rampage.

The British government has told international students to delay returning for the spring semester amid a countrywide pandemic lockdown.

International students traveling to Canadian universities will have to show they have a negative Covid test before they will be allowed to board flights.

South Korea will give medical students a second chance to sit for a licensing exam as the pandemic drives demand for doctors.

How Singapore kept the coronavirus off campus.

Scholars and former student activists are among those arrested in the latest crackdown in Hong Kong.

China’s education authorities are warning researchers that they should not “degrade or vilify” the country in order to get their studies published in global journals.

The Chinese Communist Party is targeting Chinese abroad, including students, in its efforts to rally political support.

University lecturers in Nigeria are threatening to go on strike over low wages.

The head of the board of trustees of France’s prestigious Sciences Po has stepped down after he was accused of abusing his teenage stepson three decades ago.

And finally…

Students at one of Turkey’s top universities are wielding an unusual weapon in their opposition to a new rector who is an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Metallica.

After his appointment as the new head of Bogazici University was criticized, Melih Bulu attempted to relate to students by telling an interviewer he liked to listen to the heavy-metal band. Students’ response: Blaring hard rock at their rallies.

Dozens of students have been arrested as part of the pushback against Bulu’s appointment, which they say is undemocratic. Over the last several years, Erdogan’s government has arrested and fired academics and moved to limit academic freedom.

’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.