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What the dissolution of the Yale-NUS partnership says about international education. Plus, a Q&A with Rajika Bhandari about her new book.

‘If It Can Happen to Yale…”

When one of the most high-profile and ambitious partnerships in international education abruptly comes undone, it’s inevitable to wonder: What does this mean for colleges and their global engagement?

As one observer said to me, “If this can happen to Yale, what about the rest of us?”

Three weeks ago, the National University of Singapore announced that it was, essentially, breaking up with Yale, ending their pathbreaking joint liberal-arts college and absorbing it into a new honors college at the university. The decision was entirely NUS’s; Yale leaders have said they wanted to continue Yale-NUS College, although they have refrained from criticizing the closure, which will happen in 2025.

In many ways, Yale-NUS is sui generis. Other colleges aren’t Yale, and most international partnerships don’t build entirely new institutions, with a new take on liberal-arts learning. Still, after spending the past couple of weeks talking with people from all sides of the partnership as well as international-education experts, I think there are a few takeaways:

Have clear lines of communication. In the Yale-NUS partnership, either side had the right to end the agreement unilaterally at certain dates. Still, it’s clear that the surprise nature of the announcement and the lack of consultation has upset many at Yale and especially at Yale-NUS. As Gabriel Hawawini, a former dean of Insead, the global business school with a campus in Singapore, told me, “It’s an issue of form, not substance. It could have been handled more diplomatically.”

Even solid partnerships can be affected by leadership changes. Tan Chorh Chuan, along with Yale’s Richard Levin, was author and architect of Yale-NUS College. A physician by training, he was a real believer in the power of the liberal arts. But Tan’s successor as NUS’s president, Tan Eng Chye, had less buy-in to the idea and had his own priorities for the university, sources told me. (For his part, Tan Eng Chye said in an email that he wanted to take Yale-NUS’s “rich history” and make it available to more students.) If the original evangelists of an international project leave, said Janice Bellace, a former president of Singapore Management University, maintaining the partnership “can become just a task on someone’s to-do list.”

Does the commitment go both ways? On paper, NUS and Yale were equal partners. But Kris Olds, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who studies global education, argues that the Singaporean side had more “skin in the game.” They bankrolled the project, and the Yale-NUS degree was awarded by NUS. Could Yale have had more leverage if it awarded a joint or dual degree? “You can’t build a lot of autonomy into a contract when you haven’t truly invested,” Olds said. 

The “missionary” era of international partnerships is over. In the past, international partnerships have been primarily about exporting expertise from American and other western universities around the globe. But that approach doesn’t always take, said Linda Lim, who helped start a group of Singaporean academics known as Academia | SG. “You can’t just parachute a model in,” said Lim, a professor emerita at the University of Michigan, “you have to build it into the local context.” As higher-education quality rises worldwide, academic collaborations will be more reciprocal.

Know why your college wants to go global. Colleges can’t engage internationally solely with the idea of transferring knowledge, Hawawini told me — they need to have a clear idea of how it will fit into their broader mission and work. “You should want to go abroad because you want to change at home,” he said. I think in the coming weeks, months, and even years, there will be a lot of reflection at Yale about the lasting impact of its work in Singapore. The greatest impact, of course, will be on the students, alumni, and faculty at Yale-NUS. I’ll have more reporting on that in the coming weeks.

Want to read more about Yale-NUS? I’ve got an in-depth analysis in the Chronicle of Higher Education (free registration required).

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A Q&A with Rajika Bhandari

Rajika Bhandari is out with a new book, America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility, a highly readable look at the international-student experience from two perspectives, as a former overseas student and as an international-education expert.

I interviewed Rajika about her book and the issues facing international students last week during a book launch sponsored by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. If you missed out, you can watch a recording of the event, where we were joined by a terrific panel of higher-education leaders and scholars.

We only were able to get to a fraction of my questions for Rajika, so she agreed to answer a few more of them for latitude(s) readers.

I discovered in reading your book that the focus of your graduate work was on women’s education. Certainly, there has been progress in the share of women and girls who now get an education, yet the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is a reminder of how tenuous that access may be. Why does educating women matter to society? 

The empowerment of young women through education is certainly a thread in my book, and this awareness comes from this being a deep interest of mine. In fact, all of my international research as a graduate student focused on the clear links between women’s education and global development. Study after study shows that one of the best ways for countries to progress and move forward is for societies to make sure that their girls and women are educated. Female literacy and educational levels are directly tied to the overall level of education that children receive, to nutrition and health, and to so many other benefits for society. In short, educating women enables them to make better decisions for themselves and for their societies and countries. 

However, the challenges persist, especially in countries in the Global South and in patriarchal societies where there is the fear that the more education women receive, the more liberal they become in their thinking and their ideas. Access remains a huge issue as well, where when families are only able to send some of their children to schools they choose to often send boys as opposed to girls because that seems to offer a better “investment.” 

What was most difficult about writing this book, which is both a very personal story but also a research-driven argument for the value of international students and immigrants?

From a craft and literary perspective, the most difficult thing was blending compelling and personal storytelling with research-driven analysis, and the book tries to do both. A second challenge was that everything I was writing about — international student flows, immigration issues — were morphing and shifting a lot over the past four or five years and then the pandemic came along. Even though I study these trends, it was very difficult to know where all of this would go, and yet I had to take certain risks with the book and make certain educated guesses. 

The final challenge was that my own experience as an international student had occurred in the late 1990s and so much has changed since then. This is one reason why I interviewed current and recent students for the book, to make sure that the book was grounded in current realities as well. And it was quite surprising to find that many of the issues I focus on in the book have persisted over time.

You take readers along with you. I could see the sterile glow of the airport lights as you had your painful good-bye leaving India, inhale the cooking smells of the apartment complex where many of your fellow international students lived, feel my blood pressure rise along with yours as a student “corrected” your pronunciation of English. How did you keep track of these moments, and how did you recall them in such vivid detail?

While capturing those moments in the book I relied on what we might call emotional memory, in that these particular instances had stayed with me because they had evoked a certain emotion, in most cases a feeling of shame or being “lesser than.” But I will also share that despite my fairly large body of research and academic writing, I am at heart a writer and what many of my colleagues might not know is that I have been writing “on the side” for many years, honing my craft and taking very seriously the rules of good storytelling such as “show not tell.” This is actually my second nonfiction book — the first was published nine years ago in India.

We’re giving away two free signed copies of America Calling. In the spirit of Rajika’s book, we’re asking you to share briefly (150 words or less) about the impact of the past year on your work and what fresh ideas you have for supporting international students. The winning entries could be published in a future issue of latitude(s). Enter here by September 30!

U.S. Education vs. the World

American students pay some of the highest tuition rates among all developed countries, according to the newly released Education at a Glance from the Organization for Educational Development and Cooperation.

Private-colleges students studying for bachelor’s degrees pay “by far the highest” tuition of students in any OECD country, three times more than students do in the next costliest country, Spain. Only British students pay more than Americans attending public universities.

But the U.S. also invests more in education than its peers. At the higher-education level, the U.S. spent twice as much per student as the OECD average.

Data nerds will find much more to dig into, including details about inequities in educational outcomes based on gender and immigration status and the impact of Covid-19 on higher ed.

Around the Globe

The U.S. State Department announced it will waive in-person interview requirements for some student and scholar visas through the end of 2021.

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled against including immigration provisions in the budget bill, such as a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants.

A federal judge has struck down a Trump-era H1-B rule that prioritized more highly paid applicants for visas. Here’s some background on what the rule change would have meant for international graduates.

Nearly 200 Stanford faculty members have signed a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for an end to the China Initiative

IIE announces new scholarships for students from the American University of Afghanistan, which was shuttered when the Taliban took over.

New York University says the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to its campus in Shanghai.

A former University of Miami professor is charged with conspiring to violate sanctions against Iran. 

The University of Toronto has offered the directorship of its law school’s International Human Rights Program to an international expert who was at the center of a hiring controversy, but she has turned down the position. 

In the UK, international students are struggling to find quality housing.

One in five university employees in Australia lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to a new report.

An Australian university has asked an academic journal to retract a research study conducted by a former faculty member that helps Chinese facial recognition software better identify ethnic Uyghurs.

Two new reports take a comparative look at the Chinese and American educational systems, including an examination of AI education.

For the latest updates between newsletters, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. And do you have ideas for coverage or feedback on something I’ve written? Contact me.

And finally…

No international angle here, but truly, my jaw might be permanently dislocated, given how much it dropped while I read this story.

’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.