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A new study looks at worldwide research ties. Plus, updates on visa processing and federal spending for academic and cultural exchanges.

When it comes to global research, much of the focus — when it comes to both collaboration and competition — is on the relationship between the United States and China. But that bilateral lens misses out on critical linkages around the world, according to a new paper from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

The policy brief looks at the global distribution of research, as measured by outputs such as bibliometric data. Although there has been much concern about the U.S. losing ground to China, the European Union has also become a more prominent player over the past 20 years, with greater research publications in areas like condensed-matter physics and psychiatry.

In addition, CSET finds a shifting picture of global research collaboration. While the U.S., the EU, and smaller countries with advanced research and development like Australia have all grown significantly more collaborative over the last two decades, China’s level of international collaboration over the same period is relatively flat.

In fact, smaller countries — Australia and Canada, as well as the UK — actually saw the greatest growth in international collaboration. That may be because their home R&D footprint isn’t as large, so they need to work with universities and the private sector abroad to make advances, Paul Harris, one of the report’s authors, told me. But such countries may also make international collaboration a priority. The Australian government specifically earmarks funds for global research, said Harris, an adjunct fellow at CSET and a staff member at the Australian National University.

“In Australia, there’s a sense that we have to be connected to the best people wherever they are in world and that the government gets a bigger return by making sure that we are connected internationally,” he said.

Not only does the CSET research show that the era of the single dominant research powerhouse, the U.S., is over, it suggests that the current landscape isn’t just about a pair of leaders. Increasingly, research relationships are multilateral, involving researchers in several countries, and vary by field, Harris said.

“If we frame everything as a bilateral race between U.S. and China, we’re missing half of the system because we’ve really globalized.”

And because of that globalization, pulling back from research partnerships with one country, such as China, can reverberate around the world. Instead, Harris and his co-authors said both government and higher ed need to do a sophisticated and nuanced assessment of the risks and the rewards of collaboration. A one-size-fits-all approach to research security and international collaboration will not be effective, they warn, and is likely to be counterproductive.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate could take up legislation this week aimed at making U.S. more competitive in science and technology with China and at protecting research and intellectual property. Disagreements prevented a final vote on the bill prior to Memorial Day.

While universities support the broader aims of the measure, they are concerned it could greatly increase government scrutiny of their international research and partnerships. Of particular concern is a possible provision that would require foreign gifts, contracts, or funding above a certain threshold to colleges to be approved by an interagency government panel that reviews international business deals for national-security concerns.

Although that language was pulled from the bill because of concerns that the panel, known as CFIUS, lacks the capacity or expertise to review academic partnerships, supporters are fighting to reinstate it. Other senators have proposed a more narrowly tailored amendment that would subject Chinese funds only to CFIUS oversight.

Another provision would restrict certain U.S. Department of Education funds from going to colleges with Confucius Institutes. A similar prohibition, on Defense Department grants, led to a wave of closures of the Chinese-government-supported language and cultural centers.

Visa Capacity Won’t ‘Quickly Resume’

The U.S. State Department is prioritizing student-visa applications, but officials cautioned it will take time to return to pre-pandemic processing levels.

“Even as we do make gains…our sections have huge backlogs,” Kathryn Strong, a visa-policy analyst with the department, said during a question-and-answer session at the NAFSA annual meeting last week. “We don’t expect to quickly resume full operating capacity.”

While Strong said she understood frustrations about the slow resumption of services, officials are hampered by limited resources and by continued health and safety concerns. Consulates in India, for instance, are closed or operating at an extremely limited capacity as Covid cases surge in that country, which is second only to China in the number of students it sends to the United States.

Worldwide, about half of all consulates are readily holding visa interviews.

Strong urged students to “maintain close, early contact” with their local consulate to have the best chance of obtaining a visa in time for the start of the fall semester.

During the NAFSA session, Strong also said that students with valid F and M visas will be automatically considered for a national-interest exemption and can come to the U.S. within 30 days of the August 1 start date for their academic program without separately contacting the embassy. The NIE exempts students from Covid-related travel bans.

The State Department updated its NIE policy statement last week to clarify that students who are participating in Optional Practical Training can qualify for the travel waiver. But the clarification itself led to confusion about how the NIE would apply to continuing students whose official program start dates were before August 2021. Strong said ongoing students would be included and they did not need to “change the space-time continuum.”

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Biden Funds Exchanges At Record High

President Biden’s first budget would more than double the funding for Department of State educational and cultural programming than his predecessor proposed spending on academic exchanges.

The Biden budget allocates $741 million for overseas exchanges, up from $310 million in President Trump’s last budget proposal. If the Biden spending level is approved, it would essentially match the final appropriation by Congress for such programming in the fiscal year 2021 budget, of $740 million. “It’s a request that would maintain the status quo,” Ilir Zherka, executive director of the Alliance for International Exchange, said during a NAFSA briefing.

That’s because while the Trump administration repeatedly proposed slashing State Department exchanges, Congress routinely restored the funds in final spending legislation. Current funding, in fact, is at a record high.

Zherka said he welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to maintain spending levels, rather than having to turn to Congress to undo proposed cuts. Still, Zherka said colleges, education-abroad groups, and other supporters would lobby for changes to individual line items. The budget proposal reduces spending on the Fulbright program, from $274 million to $269 million, and on academic programs, from $370 million to $365 million.

Ninety-two House members, including three Republicans, have signed onto a letter calling for additional increases to academic and cultural exchanges, to $1.1 billion.

Around the Globe

Cornell University announced it was going forward with a dual-degree program between its hotel school and Peking University despite faculty concerns about academic freedom and human rights in China.

Republican lawmakers have introduced the Protecting America from Spies Act to deny visas to people who have engaged in espionage or intellectual-property theft.

Higher-ed groups are calling on authorities in Belarus to protect academic freedom as a dozen students and professors go on trial for their part in peaceful political protests.

European Humanities University is asking its international partners to help advocate for the release of student Sofia Sapega who was detained with her boyfriend, journalist and dissident Roman Protasevich, by Belarus.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will suspend employment restrictions for Burmese students experiencing economic hardship because of the crisis in Myanmar.

President Biden’s nominee to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has pledged to deal with backlogs for work authorizations and other immigration paperwork.

The State Department recognized 20 colleges as Fulbright HBCU Institutional Leaders.

Some German universities are concerned that North Korea’s Kim Il Sung University is falsely claiming they are “sister” institutions with ongoing academic exchanges.

India will fund scholarships and interest-free college loans for Covid-19 orphans.

British universities are worried there won’t be enough government-approved quarantine hotels to handle the influx of students from restricted countries this fall.

The UK government has created a new unit to advise researchers on potential security threats from international collaborations.

Alberta has ordered universities to pause partnerships with links to the Chinese government.

Budapest’s mayor will rename streets around a planned campus of Fudan University in the Hungarian capital after Chinese human-rights abuses to protest its construction.

Leaving a top-ranked liberal-arts college to return to Nigeria isn’t the traditional path for a college leader. It’s the one this president is taking.

Got news? Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. And for the latest global-education developments between issues, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

And finally…

I’m a little late to the whole Friends reunion hullabaloo — in fact, I’m very late, as I still haven’t seen it — but I’ve still got to recommend this charming essay by writer and historian Maura Cunningham about visiting the Friends café in Beijing for “research” and about Chinese fascination with the tv show. (I especially love the bit about a waitress telling her that the café has a Smelly Cat — and that it smells good.) H/t to Jeff Wasserstrom for putting Maura’s piece, and lots of good China reading, on my radar.

’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.