In a Dickensian opening, Brimmer said education institutions find themselves in the “worst of times”, especially after the executive order banning entry to individuals from seven countries.
“The timing of the executive order was especially disadvantageous to US institutions,” she noted. “In this season, students decide which institutions they will attend. Thousands of bright students from around the world are considering US institutions, they have choices. If they are worried that the US is becoming a less welcoming country, they may decide to study elsewhere.
“We have overcome challenges before and we will persist”
“If at an impressionable age they decide to study elsewhere, we could be losing them for the next four years or the next 40.”
She charged that losing international students to competitors is a “political, social and economic loss” for US institutions. And she pointed to “the insidious attack” on “fact-based knowledge-driven decision making”.
“Not only in the US but in too many countries, national leaders decry the influence of experts and disdain those who would criticise their government,” said Brimmer. “We as educators have a special responsibility to defend knowledge and expertise.”
Brimmer also highlighted the “best of times” in the current state of affairs. “We must put our situation in perspective. We must acknowledge that even in the quote ‘worst of times’, we are still engaging in peaceful debate. In many parts of the world, we could not have this discussion in public in peace.”
She also heralded greater cooperation between international education organisations than ever before. “We have different remits and different histories but we are all on the same side… to realise the best of times we must overcome our silos.”
And she stressed that international education has bipartisan support in the US. “Many colleges and universities have explicitly stated that they want to welcome international students,” she said.
“You can continue to convey that welcoming message… You can help inform the media and policy makers by providing data from your field.”
Ending with a tone of resilience, Brimmer reminded delegates that international educators have been facilitating the exchange of people and ideas for decades.
“We have overcome challenges before and we will persist. Working across our various fields of expertise and with a range of partners we will defend and advance international education for the benefit of students, scholars and society.”