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More than half of all Americans favor placing restrictions on Chinese students studying in America.

That’s the shocking-but-not-shocking finding of a new Pew Research Center survey on public perceptions of China. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they support limits on Chinese students in the United States. About one in five strongly support such limits.

Here’s why the survey results on Chinese students are shocking… In general, Americans have a positive opinion of international students. Eight in 10 Americans say it’s a good thing for U.S. colleges to enroll students from other countries, according to Pew’s own data, and that favorable impression is shared across demographic and political groups.

The largest group of international students, by a wide margin, comes from China. They comprise more than a third of all overseas students on American campuses.

Earlier surveys, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, looked specifically at public sentiment on Chinese students and did not find majority support for curtailing their numbers. 

…and why they aren’t so surprising. The Chicago Council polls, however, found views of Chinese students were trending negative. In October 2019, only 40 percent of those surveyed backed curbs on students from China; a year later, in September 2020, 45 percent did.

The past two years have seen increased scrutiny of higher ed’s ties with China. Although the government’s China Initiative was primarily focused on researchers, it may also have colored Americans’ impressions of students. Last spring, the Trump administration did put visa restrictions on some Chinese graduate students affiliated with universities with connections to the Chinese military. While only a smalll number of students, about 1,000, had their visas revoked, the move may have reverberated more broadly.

Recent rhetoric, said Denis Simon, the former executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan University, “left the impression that all Chinese students are spies.”

In the Pew survey, nine in 10 Americans said they view China as a competitor or enemy, not as a partner.

There is a silver lining. Americans’ views of Chinese students are not monolithic. Age, education, and political affiliation are all a factor in Americans’ position on student restrictions. Nearly 70 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning voters back limits on Chinese students, while only about 40 percent of Democratic or Democratic-learning voters do. Less than half of college graduates support curbs compared to six in 10 of Americans without a degree. 

The biggest disparity of all: age. Americans over age 50 overwhelmingly favor constraints on Chinese students; those between 30 and 50 were evenly split. But two-thirds of the youngest respondents, ages 18 to 29, oppose restrictions — no other single group registered such deep disagreement with the idea. And why does that matter? Because these are the Americans who have lived and studied with Chinese classmates over the past decade’s unprecedented China-student boom.

I’ll have more reporting on the new climate for Chinese students — and how that chill is coming from both sides. Look for my article in the Chronicle of Higher Education later this week.

Global Study of STEM Students

Around the globe, all STEM graduates are not created equal, concludes a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour. 

The group of researchers, led by researchers from Stanford and ETS, found disparities in skill levels and critical thinking in STEM students from China, India, Russia, and the U.S. Students from the U.S., for example, showed significant increases in critical-thinking skills by the end of their undergraduate degree, while STEM students from the other three countries actually experienced declines in critical thinking in their final two years of university.

Meanwhile, students from China began college with the highest level of academic skill in math and physics, but students from India and Russia improved their math scores in their first two years. 

The research sheds new light on the global competitiveness of STEM students across nations and on how well major countries prepare graduates to deal with technological change.

Senate Bill Restricts Confucius Institutes

The U.S. Senate has approved legislation that would prohibit colleges from receiving federal education funds if they host Confucius Institutes — unless the Chinese government-sponsored language and cultural centers meet certain guidelines.

This is the third time the Senate has passed the CONFUCIUS, or Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States, Act. In urging passage of the bill, Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said he was supportive of joint educational initiatives between the Chinese and American people. But he accused Confucius Institutes of acting as “propaganda arms” of the Chinese government.

To qualify for Education Department funding, colleges’ contracts setting up Confucius Institutes would have to include provisions that:

  • Protect academic freedom;
  • Prohibit the application of foreign laws on campus; and 
  • Grant full managerial control of the center to the U.S. institution, including authority over hiring, the curriculum, institute activities, and research grants made by the center.

The measure would not affect federal student aid.

Congress has previously used the threat of withholding federal funds to press colleges to act on Confucius Institutes. Language in a 2018 spending bill prevented colleges with the centers from receiving certain Department of Defense funds, which led to a spate of closures. 

Earlier this week, in fact, the University of Kentucky announced it would close its Confucius Institute. In a letter to campus, Eli Capilouto, Kentucky’s president, cited concerns about jeopardizing defense research grants.

The new legislation sparked debate on social media, with some calling it a commonsense response and others arguing that politicians’ characterizations of Confucius Institutes ignore the work that they do. What’s your take? Join the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn, or email me your thoughts at

Around the Globe

More than half of undergraduates worldwide said their mental health has suffered during the pandemic, according to a survey from Chegg.

A new Higher Ed Immigration Portal is bringing together policy resources and statistical data for international and undocumented students. 

Student government associations across the U.S. are calling for passage of a far-reaching immigration bill.

A survey found that prospective international students’ opinion of the United States has improved since the election of President Biden. Grain of salt: The survey includes few or no Chinese students.

International students in the UK have started a petition asking for at least partial tuition reimbursements because of the pandemic’s impact on teaching quality and the student experience.

Sweden may strengthen its laws on academic freedom after online harassment prompted a prominent Covid researcher to quit his work.

Conscription into Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is preventing some promising Iranian students from coming to study in the U.S.

A Chinese Communist Party delegate and university professor is calling on the government to lift restrictions on overseas academic exchanges.

A U.S. national security commission is recommending that American universities take steps to prevent sensitive technology from being stolen by the Chinese military.

China is the world’s biggest source for applications for international patents for the second year in a row, and its lead over the U.S. is growing.

Canadian Nobel laureates are warning of an innovation malaise if the country does not do more to stimulate scientific and high-tech industry.

A record number of Hong Kong university students are dropping out because of the pandemic and social unrest.

Cornell faculty are criticizing a potential dual-degree program with Peking University, citing China’s track record on human rights and academic freedom.

A University of Florida professor accused by his Chinese graduate student of academic misconduct has been placed on leave after the student killed himself.

A university rector in Turkey is again the center of controversy after dismissing the results of an election for the head of a social-sciences institute and instead appointing his deputy.

And finally…

So you’re place-bound. CIty Guesser lets you put your traveler’s expertise to use by trying to figure out where in the world you are, based on short video snippets. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole when I, ahem, should’ve been writing this newsletter and found that I’m decent at identifying cities but no good at all when it comes to monuments.

’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.