Photo by Rachael Ren

The White House releases long-awaited research-security guidance. And what we’re watching for in international education in 2022.

It’s been a bumpy few years for international education — and 2022 could bring more of the same. Later in this newsletter, I’ve got predictions from readers about what this year holds for the field. Here are three big questions I expect to be asking in my reporting. 

Will a hybrid approach to international education stick? Even more than the rest of higher education, international ed prioritizes the experiential. Global mobility, both inbound and outbound, has prized immersion in culture and place. Covid-19 disrupted that: Many international students were forced to study remotely from their home countries. Virtual education abroad and internships replaced semesters in Barcelona and Rome.

Let’s be blunt: Many of these experiences were not ideal. But as the pandemic has worn on, we’ve all become better at virtual. It also offers opportunity: Virtual exchange can open international study to the 90 percent of U.S. undergraduates who don’t go abroad. Transnational education may bring an American education to students who can’t spend four years here. At the same time, concerns about sustainability have led students and educators alike to approach international travel more deliberately. In the post-pandemic future, will virtual and hybrid compliment the in-person? Or will they continue to be viewed, and resourced, as second class?

Can international education diversify? For a field that is global, it can sometimes look homogenous: U.S. colleges draw students predominantly from a handful of countries and send them out to a relatively small number of nations. Partnerships are clustered in certain parts of the world. Some institutions are deeply global, while many others have minimal international programming. We want to diversify participation in international experiences, but those of us drawn to this work don’t necessarily look like the students we hope to attract. (And yes, I include myself among the “we.”)

Change has been coming, but it’s been incremental. Will the pandemic jumpstart diversification and transformation? Or, under pressure to do more with less, will the status quo be reinforced?

Will the pandemic help make the case for internationalization? Back in 2019, I wrote about whether the “golden era” for international education was over — if there had ever been one. The pandemic may offer even more of an inflection point. 

On one hand, it underscores the importance of the global connections made on campus — the swift development of Covid vaccines simply would not have been possible without multinational teams of researchers, many of them former international students. As international enrollments tumbled, the absence of foreign students made visible their critical importance to campus diversity and to college budgets. Even the Biden administration has recognized the value of international education and pledged to take a more proactive and consistent approach to sustaining it.

Still, there will undoubtedly be college leaders who see the disruption to international mobility as a litmus test and decide that it is a discretionary activity that their students can do without. Belt-tightening and burnout has forced thousand of international educators from the field, and many won’t be back. Even some veterans have told me how discouraged they are by Washington policies that work as cross-purposes with attracting international students as well as their struggles to make the case to administrators. Which vision will win out?

Your forecasts for the year ahead are below. But first some news…

Research Disclosure Guidance Released

The White House has released long-awaited disclosure guidelines for universities and scientists receiving federal grants, requirements spurred by concerns about foreign money and influence in research.

The research-security guidance seeks to clarify, strengthen, and standardize reporting requirements across the federal government. It mandates universal disclosure of participation in talent recruitment programs funded by foreign governments, such as China’s Thousand Talents Program, and says that researchers must produce contracts with any foreign entity upon request. The guidelines also give federal agencies the discretion to require such contracts be submitted as part of the standard grant application process.

The document, which was developed by an interagency panel convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, includes a detailed table about what kinds of affiliations, contracts, and support researchers must disclose. It states that agencies must produce model grant application forms within 120 days.

The guidance is the result of a presidential national security memorandum issued during the Trump administration. Congress also included language requiring agencies to draft uniform disclosure policies in last year’s defense authorization bill.

Higher ed has clamored for clearer, more consistent government guidance as well, as fears about foreign influence has led to increased scrutiny of scientists’ overseas ties, particularly those with China. Researchers have expressed confusion about what paperwork they need to file or what relationships they must disclose.

Dozens of scientists have been investigated as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s China Initiative, and the first university researcher, Harvard chemistry professor Charles M. Lieber, was convicted late last year as part of the probe into academic and economic espionage with China. In a number of other cases, however, charges have been dismissed.

The China Initiative has led to fears of racial profiling of researchers of Chinese or Asian descent. The White House guidance acknowledges bias concerns, saying that disclosure policies must be impletemented and enforced in a nondiscriminatory manner. 

At the same time, the document says there have been efforts to enlist American scientists to “secretively conduct research” for foreign governments or to inappropriately disclose the results of U.S. government-funded research. The governments of China, Iran, and Russia are singled out as “working vigorously…to acquire, through both licit and illicit means, U.S. research and technology.”

The guidance also appears to open the door to something many in the scientific community have pressed for, a process by which researchers can amend past foreign-funds disclosures without penalty. While it stops short of endorsing an “amnesty” program, the panel says that “agencies should strongly encourage self-disclosure and correction of omissions and inaccuracies, including by ensuring that self-disclosure will be taken into consideration during the process of administrative resolution of noncompliance with disclosure requirements.” 

Tobin Smith, vice president for policy at the Association of American Universities, the top U.S. research institutions, called the policy an important step forward. The decision to allow researchers to use tools such as electronic CVs to submit information will streamline reporting, he said. “This will make compliance more consistent and less burdensome and complex for university researchers,” he said, adding, “We are overall very pleased with the guidance.”

The interagency group plans to develop a template offering additional guidance on agency roles and responsibilities for addressing disclosure violations.

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What Readers See Ahead

Readers flexed their forecasting muscles and shared the trends they think we’ll be talking about in international education in 2022. Thanks to everyone who shared their predictions, and apologies to those I couldn’t include. Comments are edited for space and clarity (but mostly space).

What will 2022 bring us? Slow incrementalism. There is no sudden switch to push that will bring things back to the Golden Age. We will have to have patience as a sector to adapt to whatever the new normal looks like in 2023, 2024, or 2025, but we won’t get there yet in 2022. We are still in a transition — we have not left the pandemic, even if it appears the endemic is on the horizon.

—Ryan Allen, Chapman University

Using technology to connect students, faculty, and administrators internationally and across institutions will become “normal.” With pandemic risks and restrictions continuing to oscillate unpredictably, we will embrace tools and communication norms that help us maintain meaningful relationships that are resilient to disruption, while also jettisoning the practices that exhausted us during lockdown. Backed up by more robust data and guides to good practice, virtual exchange, online conferences, and other methods will secure their place in the educator’s toolkit without replacing in-person exchange/mobility or gatherings.

—Henry Shepherd, Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute

The surge of online learning.

—Marina Meijer, PIE Academy

Growth of hybrid, dual-delivery programs, such as courses led online by professors on U.S. campuses and students in their home country with critical mass of peers who gather in person. Look for these to grow in cities like Shanghai, Mumbai, and others sending large numbers to U.S. but now under travel restrictions/complications. It may also become a model for programs to improve English and prepare students for academic life in the U.S. prior to departure, regardless of the pandemic.   

—Samuel Robfogel, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth

2022 is a year that calls for more creative collaborations and innovative ways to reach and recruit international students. As the pandemic altered the landscape of international education, traditional ways of recruitment such as virtual fairs may not be effective as more institutions globally need virtual connections. Surveys have shown that fatigue for virtual events among students and recruiters grew drastically during the pandemic. Additionally, travels to key international-student-sending countries such as China and India continue to remain inaccessible. How to reach international students effectively will be a challenge for international educators in 2022. 

—Ruby Cheng, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs 

Considering the challenges that will remain with new variants, U.S. HEIs will consider working with those already on the ground who may be able to connect with prospective students and parents face-to-face, such as education agents. The other emergence will be the rise of country-based representatives for U.S. HEIs, who would be regionally and locally based and thus would not run into the same challenges as those representatives based in the U.S. They will also be a cost-effective option for many HEIs who will see cuts in travel budgets.

—Raghvendra Singh, Northern Arizona University

The number of colleges in non-English speaking countries offering degree programs in English will continue to increase — increased competiion for U.S. colleges. Active support for international ed from the U.S government will be very slow in coming.

—Perry Akins, ITEP International

U.S. education’s attractiveness will continue to decline with family-funded international students. American policymakers and universities will finally agree that family-funded Chinese students are assets, not liabilities, and start to make a plan for the school year 2024-2025. 

—Andrew Chen, WholeRen International

Enrollment management leaders will lean into internationalization efforts that offer extreme flexibility and rapid responses to fluctuating global markets rather than long-term commitments/investments. Long-term contracts for pathways and investments in academic partnerships that take years to establish will become less attractive. Optional Practical Training will survive current U.S. legislative proposals from those who simply do not get it. And IF somehow OPT takes a significant hit, U.S. international student recruitment numbers will decline dramatically until that gets fixed.

—Ben Waxman, Intead

Many universities are experiencing a budget shortfall and may have a hiring freeze. I predict there will be a lot of international departments severely understaffed with high expectations to recruit and retain international students as well as pressure to get domestic students abroad since there’s a lot of pent-up demand. However, I think the promising areas are institutions that are willing to take risks and reinvent themselves and their international programs. International education in 2022 will and should not be the same as it was in 2019. We’ve learned a lot about what can be done with virtual and hybrid opportunities and I hope it will become more accessible for ALL students.  

—Caroline Ideus, University of Tennessee at Martin

I don’t so much have a prediction as a grave concern regarding mental health. Many colleagues have shared their struggles regarding Covid’s impacts on their personal and professional identity. Internationalists are drawn to the diverse sensory stimulation brought on by meeting new people and going to new places. We are starved for the stimulation that gives so much meaning to our lives – without it, who are we? What is our mission? What else gives us as much pleasure and purpose? I see increasing numbers of younger and mid-career international-education professionals pivoting to private-sector jobs in search of answers. As it becomes increasingly obvious that Covid will be with us for the long haul, I’m concerned that mental-health challenges will deepen in 2022.

—Stephanie Doscher, Florida International University

I think 2022 is the year of acceptance and progression – the year where we learn to steer the ship forward with what we’ve learned and see the education sector revive. I anticipate most of the big, meaningful change — whatever that means to each individual, university, organization, and everyone/everything in between — has happened. Those who have embraced it will be the ones to come out on top, and those who have ignored it or remained stagnant will have a very difficult time catching back up.

—Srikant Gopal, the TOEFL Program at ETS

I welcome your suggestions, story ideas, and feedback. Send me an email or join the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Around the Globe

International students may fall victim to human traffickers, a report from the U.S. State Department found.

The National University of Singapore has named a dean of its new honors college, formed by the merger of Yale-NUS College into the university, even as the final classes of students at the liberal-arts college complete their studies. 

A pair of prominent researchers said a recent multi-country statement on global education was a “missed opportunity” because it was too western-centric and overemphasized physical mobility.

International education in the U.S. reinforces racism, according to a recent study of students from sub-Saharan Africa.

A Washington Post editorial calls for more higher-education opportunities for Dreamers, writing that it is “self-defeating to deny them the chance of a better life.”

A Chinese student at Yale argues the university should divest from China because of human-rights concerns, saying Yale needs to do “some soul-searching” about its relationship with China.

A retired professor who is an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party was fired by Renmin University even though he has been living in the U.S. for a decade.

Irish higher education faces sweeping changes in oversight and governance under just-approved legislation.

A Pakistani Senate committee is conducting an inquiry of scholars involved in plagarism.

A Japanese university lost 34 million research files due to a software-backup error.

And finally…

Lately, a lot of commentators have called for jettisoning New Year’s resolutions — after all, most don’t stick and given everything we’re dealing with these days, why set yourself up to be let down? I, however, am a compulsive list-maker and what are resolutions but an excuse to make more!

I recently read that rather than start with a checklist of to-do’s, you should begin with an emotion or state of mind you hope to achieve, then fill in the steps that can help you reach that outcome. For me, it’s to be curious and to allow myself more grace.

What about you? Do you think resolutions are bunk? Or are you excited about your goals for the new year? Please share!

’Til next week —Karin

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A weekly newsletter about what matters in global higher education and why. By Karin Fischer.

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.