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Study abroad and international recruitment excluded from new US guidance

The US Department of Education has clarified guidance it released earlier this year on third-party service providers will not have the impact on study abroad and international student recruitment that the sector had feared.

Stakeholders were concerned, not only would the guidance be huge detrimental to recruitment and study abroad, it could also have closed US international branch campuses and disrupted dual degree programs and transfer articulation agreements with foreign institutions. Photo: pexels

There were fears that the guidance would "end nearly all current study abroad programming"

On April 11, authorities issued a new statement detailing that the Dear Colleague Letter, released in February, exempts study abroad programs and international recruitment.

The department highlighted that it does not consider contracts with a number of third-party servicers to be relationships that the guidance would impact.

These include those in study abroad programs, recruitment of foreign students not eligible for Title IV aid, certain clinical or externship opportunities, high school and local education agency dual or concurrent enrolment programs and local police departments.

It also added that it will identify any other services that fall into the category as it reviews comments it has received. In a call for public comment, the department received some 1,100 responses, which it described as “significant and helpful feedback”.

The department also said it intends to remove the provision on foreign ownership of a third-party servicer.

Based on the comments received, it said the “number and breadth of servicers with at least some level of foreign ownership has expanded in the context of a changing higher education marketplace where institutions are adopting increasing numbers of technology-based solutions”.

“We believe the issue is more appropriately considered through negotiated rulemaking,” the department said in its updated statement.

“We believe the issue is more appropriately considered through negotiated rulemaking”

It added that it will “carefully review public comments on areas of confusion or concern and consider clarifying and narrowing the scope of the guidance in several areas, including software and computer services, student retention, and instructional content”.

The September 1 effective date for the guidance will also be delayed, it added. Institutions and companies will have at least six months to make any changes required once the revised final guidance letter is published.

NASFA said it is reviewing the changes included in the updated guidance and it “will continue to work with partners to advocate for clarity and policies that support international education”.

The organisation’s executive director and CEO Fanta Aw is also taking part in a three-day virtual public hearing. On April 12 she will “commend the changes and urge the department to continue to engage with partners in the higher education and international education sectors as is works to revise and finalize TPS guidance”.

NAFSA was one of a handful of organisations leading the charge against the new guidance, which it said created “great uncertainty” for US higher education.

“Our advocacy efforts yield a positive result”

There were fears that the guidance would “end nearly all current study abroad programming”, as well as damage US institutions which stakeholders feared would not be permitted to use international recruiters to enrol international students.

While stakeholders responded with relief, vice provost for Global Affairs at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Kalpen Trivedi, wrote online, “I’m glad we prevailed but what a colossal waste of time and resources across the field”.

“Good news!” chairman of AIFS, William Gertz, added. “Our advocacy efforts yield a positive result.”

In a statement, IES Abroad said it was “thrilled” with the education department’s update.

“We always hoped that this guidance would be amended, but are happy and relieved that it took place so quickly.  Study abroad and the world will be a better place because there will continue to be greater access to study abroad!” the organisation noted.

The Forum on Education Abroad, which led a number of advocacy activities, said it was grateful to have collaborated with the education abroad community to “ensure that key groups were exempt from the DCL”.

“Thank you to everyone who showed up, listened, took action, sent letters, shared comments, and showed your support to help your colleagues – and future students – with speed and determination,” president and CEO Melissa Torres said.

NAFSA however added that it remains concerned that a “broader scope of entities under the TPS umbrella could stifle or disrupt the wide range of transnational partnerships that currently exist in US academia”.

While the update is “incredibly meaningful” and the organisation is pleased to see the narrowing scope in several areas, NAFSA emphasised that the TPS definition “should NOT include entities related to educational programming, student retention, or logistical or technical support that DOES NOT involve the administration of Title IV program funds”.

The transnational partnerships that could still be impacted “enable students, scholars, and faculty to study, earn a degree, intern, and conduct research at institutions abroad—either virtually or in-person”, executive director and CEO of NAFSA Fanta Aw noted.

“We advise the department to follow the Administrative Procedure Act rulemaking process if it wishes to include any non-financial activities in the TPS definition,” she said.

“We stand ready and eager with our partners to help the department finalise this guidance in such a way that maintains US students’ ability to reap the many benefits that accrue from a globally enriched education.

“We look forward to working with the department to address these critical concerns.”

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