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Why educators fear the Trump effect on US education exports

What might international students and their families think of a Trump victory? Photo: Matt A.J.

"The global economy is demanding innovation which thrives on diversity of ideas and talent"

But as billionaire American businessman and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump continues to ramp up anti-immigrant rhetoric in the wake of the largest mass shooting in American history, the lack of a comprehensive national internationalisation policy or strategy will be the least of educators’ worries many fear.

“In the past, international educators in the US have lamented the absence of a national strategy to promote the States as a study destination, in contrast with our colleagues in Australia and Canada, for example,” observes Eddie West, director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“But in America today we now have something far worse than merely no strategy: a national campaign that’s essentially telling the foreign-born, Muslims and many others included: ‘We don’t respect you, and we don’t want you here’.”

West’s remarks come in the wake of the most recent terror attack on US soil: the June 12 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the popular American tourist destination city, Orlando, Florida.

The shooting was reportedly carried out by a gunman who pledged allegiance to terror organisation ISIS.

Trump — who before the event had called for a block on all Muslims from entering the United States as a way to guard against such attacks — used the Orlando shooting to say that he was “right” to call for such a ban. The shooter, though a US citizen, was born to immigrant parents from Afghanistan.

“How confident would you feel about their ability to remain safe in this environment?”

A day after the Orlando attack, Trump said that if elected he would “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.”

While critics question the workability, legality and morality of such a ban, West and other international education officials fear the proposed ban — as well as other aspects of Trump’s rhetoric and proposals, such as the construction of a large wall that runs the US-Mexican border — will likely dissuade international students from choosing the United States as a study destination.

“If you live in a predominantly Muslim country, and your son or daughter was considering coming to the US, how confident would you feel about their ability to remain safe in this environment – to avoid being the target of anti-immigrant slurs or actions?” West asks.

“It would be perfectly rational for those parents to worry for their children’s safety in light of the ugliness being demonstrated and harnessed by the Trump campaign.”

Rahul Choudaha, co-founder of interEDGE.org, a training organisation focused on inclusion and success of international students, also worries about the effect of Trump’s rhetoric on foreign students’ decision to study in the US.

“For international students, reputation and perception of quality is one of the key reasons for choosing the US as a study destination,” Choudaha relates. “They pay top dollars for this opportunity, which is critical for many institutions, especially in times of financial challenges.”

However, Choudaha believes any exclusionary political rhetoric will discourage global talent. He also foresees the damage threatening other sectors beyond education. “The global economy is demanding innovation which thrives on diversity of ideas and talent.

“Any policy which tries to restrict diversity and inclusion of talent is going to hurt the society and the economy.”

The tarnish on the US’s reputation overseas as a result of Trump’s campaign mudslinging is already beginning to appear. A recent survey that found 60% of 40,000 students in 118 countries said they would be less likely to choose the US as a study destination if Donald Trump were to be elected president. The survey calculated that a Trump victory could cost the country $4.75 billion in economic contributions from international students.

60% of 40,000 students in 118 countries said they would be less likely to choose the US as a study destination

“The implications of this research are important to US academic institutions as they plan their academic and language programmes that are anticipating certain enrolment rates,” says Benjamin Waxman, CEO at marketing and student recruitment specialist INTEAD, which carried out the survey with FPP EDU Media.

“And the implications for US university budgets are also important should enrolments decline,” Waxman adds.

“Canadian, Australian and UK institutions may be the big winners as far as international student mobility goes if Mr. Trump wins in November.”

The FPP/INTEAD survey has international education specialists at some American universities on edge.

“We will carefully watch for changes in our pool of applicants and be sensitive to their concerns,” said Aimee Thostenson, director of international student recruitment at the University of Minnesota.

“In our interactions with students, both prospective and current, we will continue to represent the US as a country that celebrates diversity and endeavour to create a campus climate at the University of Minnesota that values each person.”

Mark H. Sklarow, CEO at the Independent Educational Consultants Association, said continuing to send a welcoming message to foreign students will be difficult given the “xenophobic and racist” tone of Trump’s rhetoric.

“Over the past six months, Trump makes a speech that equates ‘Mexican’ with rapist and drug dealer, and his poll numbers go up.  He talks about walls at our borders, and his poll numbers go up.  He proposes a ban on Muslims, and his poll numbers go up,” Sklarow says. “He proposed an immigration ban not just on Muslims, but on anyone from ‘parts of the world’ where anti-Americanism exists.

“The net result of his pronouncements? The world thinks America agrees with him: that we hate foreigners, those with dark skin, those that speak Spanish, and those that are Muslim,” Sklarow laments.

“They believe that his ‘America First’ rhetoric has the support of most.”

He fears Trump’s “constant hate-tinged speeches” will cause an increasing numbers of students and families around the world to see Americans as less hospitable.

“Bottom line,” he says, “my fear is that he is a danger to one of the nation’s most important exports: US education.”

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