A pair of reports warn about research collaboration with China, higher-ed groups issue a joint statement on internationalization, and the latest from D.C. Plus, readers, tell me your predictions for international ed in the new year!

Action and Inaction

Courtesy of Junseong Lee

As Capitol HIll winds down for the year, some legislation has stalled, but an agent fix has gotten Congress’ OK.

The U.S. Senate passed by voice vote a measure that reverses an apparent — and apparently accidental — ban on incentive-based compensation in international-student recruiting. Lawmakers had thrown the increasingly common practice into legal jeopardy when they failed to include longstanding language in a veterans education bill to exclude overseas recruitment from a broader federal prohibition on paying agents. As a result, colleges that use agents abroad could have jeopardized GI Bill funds.

The new legislation reinstates the exemption, bringing the vets bill in line with the Higher Education Act. It was approved by the House earlier this month and now goes to President Biden.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the Senate parliamentarian again struck down immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act, including protections for DACA recipients. Then on Sunday, Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he would not vote for the massive social-programs bill, at least not in its current form.

The measure, a cornerstone of President Biden’s agenda, would have provided deportation protections and work authorization for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. But it also contained a bitter pill for international students and colleges in the form of new fees on student-visa holders.

The legislation would authorize the collection of a “supplemental” $250 fee for each international student as well as a new $500 charge to apply for Optional Practical Training, doubling the cost of filing for the popular work program for international graduates.

It also included a number of non-international-education provisions, such as a Pell Grant increase, funds for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, and college retention and completion grants.

In a statement, the White House said, “the fight for Build Back Better is too important to give up.” However, the fate of the bill, and all its provisions, remains uncertain.

For news developments over the holiday break, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

New Cautions on China

A pair of new reports are sounding an alarm about American universities’ research collaborations with China.

The reports, by the Hoover Institution and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warn that working with some Chinese researchers and institutions could leave the U.S. vulnerable while helping to advance China’s national-security interests.

The Hoover Institution paper looked at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Automation, which carries out research on artificial intelligence, biometrics, and neuroscience but also works with state security on mass-surveillance technologies, such as those associated with human-rights violations against Uighurs, the Muslim minority group.

Over five years, 224 American universities or research institutes co-published papers with CASIA, the Hoover researchers found. They argue that current standards for reviewing overseas collaborations fail to address how Chinese research institutions “have obfuscated their activities and associations, incentivized unauthorized transfers of intellectual property or know-how, and engaged in other questionable practices that undermine human rights and the integrity of scientific research.”

The authors call for revising research-compliance standards to better account for political, security, and human-rights contexts as well as for the creation of an independent entity to help assess risks in academic collaborations in authoritarian states. 

Meanwhile, FDD examined American colleges that have, or had, Confucius Institutes, the language and cultural centers sponsored by the Chinese government. Of those that recently ended their agreements, the conservative think tank found that at least 28 universities, or a third of those that closed their CIs, continued to work with their Chinese partner institutions, or even expanded their relationships. Some of those Chinese universities have ties to that country’s military, the report said.

Chris Singleton, a FDD adjunct fellow and author of the report, called Confucius Institutes “modern-day Trojan horses” and said they should be shut down. (Many have already closed because of restrictions on defense funds to colleges that host them.)

“The Chinese government managed to build an intricate web of academic and research partnerships between America’s top universities and Chinese schools that directly enable China’s military-industrial complex,” Singleton said. Still, he notes that the majority of Chinese universities do not have relationships with the military and said federal officials should approach possible restrictions on Sino-American academic collaboration “with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.”

Confucius Institutes are a popular political target, and it’s far from clear how integral they are as gateways to research and educational partnerships with China — most U.S. colleges, after all, have the latter while, even at their height, only a few hosted CIs. 

But I think it’s worth taking note of these reports as the latest cautions about academic ties with China, in an environment in which such collaborations are regarded with growing suspicion.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a sweeping “China competition” bill that included a host of new disclosure requirements for international research collaborations and for gifts and contracts to universities from China and other foreign governments. One of the provisions of the bill could even give the U.S. government veto power over some foreign academic partnerships. (It would also increase research spending.) 

The House approved more modest legislation, and staffers have begun to work on drafting a final bill. On dotEDU, the American Council on Education’s podcast on higher-ed policy, Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs, called the imposition of tougher foreign-disclosure rules on universities in the new year a “very real possibility.” 

“Concern about China and its intentions toward the United States is very high on Capitol Hill,” Hartle said. “Concern is bipartisan and bicameral — this is not just one party or the other.”

Joint Statement on Internationalization

A half-dozen of the world’s leading higher-education associations have signed a joint statement pledging to work together to advance “safe, secure, and sustainable” internationalization.

In the statement, the major higher-ed groups from Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the UK, and the U.S. lay out a set of common objectives and a framework for future collaboration: “We share a belief in the positive value that higher education and international cooperation delivers for our member institutions, for our students and academic faculty, and for the communities we serve.”

The associations pledge to advocate for international education with governments and funding agencies, to exchange best practices and expertise, and to explore the possibility of joint initiatives and policies.

Notably, the statement calls for higher education to play an “active and constructive role” in ongoing debates about balancing international academic collaboration and national-security concerns. The groups should engage in “multilateral approaches to security and risk in internationalization,” the statement says.

Increased government attention on research security and disclosure is not limited to the U.S., and universities can learn from one another said Sarah Spreizer, assistant vice president for government relations at ACE, the American signatory to the statement.

The associations have maintained a discussion on international-education issues over the past three years, but the statement is meant to signal to policymakers, international students, and others that they are committed to taking “proactive steps” to advance internationalization and tackle shared problems, Spreitzer said. 

“It’s a regular forum to have dialogue, higher education to higher education.”

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Around the Globe

Texas A&M named faculty and administrators to a committee to examine a reorganization plan for its Qatar campus. The provost says no changes will be made until the panel makes its recommendations, hopefully by end of spring term.

Purdue’s president warned of disciplinary action against Chinese students who allegedly threatened a fellow student who posted online praising student victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In opening statements at his trial for allegedly lying about his ties to China, Charles Lieber’s lawyer said the government “made up” or “mangled” evidence against the Harvard professor. Prosecutors played a video in which Lieber told the FBI that he hadn’t been “completely transparent” with investigators

Proposed legislation would end Optional Practical Training

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services backlog for processing work authorizations and other immigration-related documents has grown significantly since the pandemic began.

A prestigious scientific journal has retracted a paper that relied on 38,000 DNA samples from Chinese ethnic minorities and on which nearly a third of the co-authors were affiliated with the Chinese police.

Dozens of colleges and higher-ed groups have filed a brief in an appeal of a judge’s ruling that DACA is unlawful.

The State Department will double the number of IDEAS grants awarded to colleges to help expand and diversify study-abroad programming.

International students finally began to return to Australia as Covid travel restrictions were lifted.

A top South Korean science and technological university plans to open a campus in New York

Students held a sit-in at a prestigious Mexican research center to protest a new government-appointed director.

Students at Turkey’s Boğaziçi University could face jail time for their part in campus demonstrations.

Four out of five international-recruitment agents surveyed by INTO said they thought Covid had changed international students’ decisionmaking.

Lily Lopez-McGee joins Diversity Abroad as its first executive director.

Hans deWit of Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education was given a lifetime achievement award as the Society for Transnational Academic Researchers honored top scholars.

And finally…

2021 is coming to a close, and it’s been a tumultous one for international education: International enrollments and study abroad began to rebound from pandemic lows. The Biden administration pledged a “renewed commitment” to international education. Congress attempted to legislate everything from student-visa fees to foreign-funds reporting, and the China Initiative had its day in court.

Now, get out your crystal balls: What will 2022 bring for international ed? How will the field wrestle with the climate crisis? Will promises of government commitment turn into actiionable policy? Could anti-Asian racism continue to color how students and their families see the U.S.? Is there a lasting legacy of pandemic-era budget cuts and downsizing?

Readers, what are the outstanding questions you have heading into the new year? Tell me what you think the biggest trends, the most-critical challenges, and the greatest opportunities will be for international education in 2022. Complete this Google form, or email me at latitudesnews@gmail.com

Get your predictions to me by January 1, and I’ll include them — and maybe a few of my own — in a special New Year’s edition of latitude(s).

This is my final newsletter of 2021. I’ll be back in your in-boxes on the first Monday in January. ’Til then, stay safe, hug your loved ones, and happy holidays. —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.