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International educators react to shock Trump victory

After a shock win for Donald Trump in the US presidential election, educators in the US and overseas have reacted with concern that the victory will damage the US’s reputation as a welcoming destination as well as curtail work opportunities for international students in the country.

Could what Trump the President-elect says in the coming weeks differ from what Trump the Candidate said to his supporters in the heat of the campaign? Photo: Gage Skidmore

Some students may even choose their destination within the US on the basis of whether it's a 'blue state' or a 'red state'

“There is so much at stake for all of our citizens as well as for the international community in how we choose to move forward now that the campaign season is over,” said Marlene Johnson, executive director and CEO of NAFSA.

“We have been advocating for each of our newly elected leaders (as well as those they appoint next year) to advance policies that embrace the diversity within and outside our borders and that build on our ability to communicate with allies and foes alike.”

“There is so much at stake for all of our citizens as well as for the international community in how we choose to move forward”

Fanta Aw, NAFSA president and assistant vice president of campus life at American University, said the results show the “malaise and angst” among major segments in American society and skepticism about how government institutions have worked – a trend she fears is being seen in other countries as well.

“I am sad to see that this is where we are as a society. We have much healing to do and much to repair,” she said. “For international education and for so many important areas we expect these elections to create great anxiety around the world and in the months ahead we will know the potential full impact.

“What is happening in the US is happening around the world I am afraid. We certainly know some of the key reasons – fear, people feeling left out of the global economy, and increased xenophobia among others. Tonight’s results speak volumes!”

Following the shock result, the perception of the US as an unwelcoming environment is what will cause the damage, explained Marty Bennett, director of international admissions and services at the University of Findlay in Ohio.

“We will likely experience a dip in the next two to three years, and need to prepare our campuses for that possibility,” he said.

However, he added that it is important to keep in mind that “many of the extreme promises President-Elect Trump made would require significant changes to existing law that, even with a potentially sympathetic Congress, are highly unlikely to happen.”

“The challenge for international educators is that the reputational damage has been done,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rahul Choudaha, co-founder, interEDGE.org, a US-based firm specialising in career training and coaching international students, said the viewpoints expressed by Trump during the campaign season will slow down international education exchanges and student mobility.

“College application deadlines for the Fall 2017 admissions are fast approaching and these election results will give an unwelcoming message to international students,” he said. “It would hurt the attractiveness of the US as the most preferred destination of choice. Recruitment and admissions professionals will have a hard time making a case for the US.”

David Stremba, Founder of International Education Insights Consultancy (IEI) and formerly of Navitas, INTO and Kaplan, echoed this sentiment. “I think there will be a wait and see approach by prospective students, parents and agents for the US HE sector, resulting in a slight negative impact on Fall 2017 enrolments, since it is somewhat late in the cycle.”

However, higher education is not the only sector to be affected.

“I think the short term travel/experiential ESL sector will be hit the hardest along with short term uni exchange programmes,” Stremba added.

The “poisonous rhetoric” used by soon-to-be-President Trump in the election campaign is something which needs to be overcome, commented Jean-Marc Alberola, president of Bridge Education Group, “which unfortunately doesn’t speak well of his character and values”.

“I suspect his bark is bigger than his bite – at the end of the day there will be no wall, no mass deportations, or a change in the international order. I hope I’m right,” he added.

Little is known about the policies that Trump plans to implement during his time in the White House, but his anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout the campaign has educators concerned that the future of employment rights for international students could be at stake.

“What is happening in the US is happening around the world I am afraid”

“Career advancement is one of the prime motivations for international students to study in the US. Trump’s anti-immigrant stance may create stricter visa and immigration policies that may make it even more difficult for students to come to the US and find internship and job opportunities,” noted Choudaha.

Choudaha argued that the victory indicated a gaining momentum of nationalist viewpoints in the US, that will “prompt visa and immigration policies to limit transition from education to employment opportunities”.

“It is also likely to have a chilling effect on the experiences of international students on some campuses located in strongly Republican states,” he added, an opinion held by Terrence Graham, associate dean and executive director of international programs at California State University, Long Beach.

“I think that universities in the middle part of the country, or in more rural areas, will be most affected by this,” he said.

“Discerning students determined to study in the US will be looking at universities in more diverse and cosmopolitan states, and that could benefit us in California.”

From an agent’s perspective, states could very well be judged based on their individual voting outcomes in the decision making process.

“Among the more sophisticated US-bound Vietnamese students, some may even choose their destination within the US on the basis of whether it’s a ‘blue state’ or a ‘red state’ – with the preference being for the former,” said Mark Ashwill, managing director of educational consultancy, Capstone Vietnam.

For mobility from Vietnam, Ashwill said he foresees a possible negative impact of a Trump presidency on student enrolment in the US in particular.

“I believe that some Vietnamese students, and certainly many more students from countries whose populations Trump insulted in the campaign, will choose another overseas study destination that is perceived as being more open and tolerant,” he said, adding: “The jury is still out on exactly how many will make this decision. Only time will tell.”

“Indian students will continue to be attracted to the US”

For other markets however, reactions have been less cautionary. Among Indians, Trump has been seen as pro-India throughout the campaign, according to Ravi Lochan Singh. Trump even participated in the Diwali functions with the non-resident Indian population in the US.

“There is an impression that India will be amongst the first countries that he will visit in his official capacity,” said Singh, managing director of Global Reach in India.

“It also seems that the Indian students will continue to be attracted to the US considering that most of the campaign of Trump which was labelled as anti-migration was more against the illegal migrants and not against skill-migrants and professionals.”

Ashwill also pointed out that Trump’s presidential stance on key issues could look very different from the negative messages delivered on the campaign trail.

“Another factor that may have an impact on international student flows to the US will be what Trump the President-elect says in the coming weeks vs. what Trump the Candidate said to his supporters in the heat of the campaign,” he noted.

“This rhetoric has a way of changing once a candidate is catapulted into The White House and becomes the representative of all US Americans.”

Trump clinched the required 270 electoral college votes to secure his presidency, after upsets in previously democratic states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

He also won the battleground states of North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.

So far, 48 states have been called, with Trump claiming 290 of the electoral college votes to Clinton’s 228.

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