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US international aims to ‘foster innovation, prosperity and peace’

The Biden administration is pushing for the continued internationalisation of higher education in the US, a government official has suggested. Expanding international education opportunities will “drive both innovation and economic prosperity to build back a better world post-pandemic”, they contended.

Rosenzweig reminded AIEA attendees why he believes international mobility matters. Photo: The PIE News

"Policy may be at the 30,000-foot level, but it’s our person-to-person exchanges and soft diplomacy that brings policy the last three feet"

Speaking at the AIEA conference in Louisiana on February 22, deputy assistant secretary for Academic Programs at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Ethan Rosenzweig said that president Biden has “challenged us to consider how foreign policy can touch the middle class here in America to benefit all Americans… even those who’ve never had access to internationalisation”.

He address the event’s attendees at the association breakfast, weaving in personal stories of internationalisation with US State Department priorities and stressed the correlation between graduation rates and international experiences.

“The graduation rate for students in rural or underserved communities is about 30-35%. But you take those students and put them in a study abroad experience and [it] goes up to 85%. That’s a tangible moment of how these programs can touch lives,” he said.

Rosenzweig asserted that as the world emerges from the global pandemic, “it’s more important than ever, that we renew our commitment to supporting international education initiatives to foster greater engagement and collaboration between scholars, researchers, and students worldwide”.

He also highlighted numerous US interagency international education initiatives, referencing the significance of the Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education. “For those of you who have worked in federal bureaucracy, this collaboration is a big deal. It provides a compass of which direction we’re heading.”

He proffered that collaboration was indicative of the priorities of the Biden administration.

“As we expand international education opportunities for all, we will build people-to-people ties between nations and engage a greater diversity of people,” he continued.

“We will advance shared democratic values at this critical moment”

“We will drive both innovation and economic prosperity to build back a better world post-pandemic. We will develop knowledge and skills among the next generation of leaders to help solve global challenges. And we will advance shared democratic values at this critical moment, when we are witnessing a rise in authoritarianism and anti-democratic ideologies across the globe.”

He addressed visas, a pressing issue for the sector, acknowledging “there is still a lot of work to be done with interagency partners to maintain academic mobility and support international students and scholars”. Rosenzweig stated government would not dwell on past “speed bumps we have seen in international education mobility”, but rather, is forward-looking.

“I’m proud of the new visa waiver program where we are now able to waive the interview process for thousands of F, M, and J academic applicants… but it takes time. It takes collaboration,” he reminded the group, promising that visa issues will continue to be addressed.

Rosenzweig highlighted some of the numbers associated with international programming, championing the impact of over 400,000 Fulbright alumni, 160,000 US students studying abroad in 2019 and 2020, 34,000 students served by Gilman scholarships, IDEAS grants providing up to $35,000 to institutions to increase and diversify education abroad for US students, and the economic impacts of international students and scholars studying in the states.

“We know that international students bolster the American economy, contributing over $39 billion and supporting 416,000 US jobs during the last academic year. And most importantly, international students and scholars build lifelong relationships with their American peers, with their research partners, to give America a larger standing in the world, to rebuild relationships across the globe.”

Rosenzweig emphasised that relationships formed through international programming are powerful. “It’s what drives policy. Policy may be at the 30,000-foot level, but it’s our person-to-person exchanges and soft diplomacy that brings policy the last three feet.”

He indicated that unlocking the potential in others was why he and many others joined the profession, but that the last two years have been incredibly difficult for the field.

“Academic institutions are essential incubators for many of our shared values”

“After years of Covid and all the headwinds challenging international mobility, I understand when we question whether our work has made any significant progress or done anything to provide tangible results. Is there a return on our investment?” Yet, he implored the group to remind themselves of the myriad reasons their work matters.

“It matters because academic institutions are essential incubators for many of our shared values, such as the freedom of speech, press assembly, and open academic inquiry. It matters because our campuses are places where students and scholars can explore diverse global perspectives as they seek to address pressing issues. It matters because by engaging with one another, the lasting bonds we form, ensure that innovation, economic prosperity, promoting peace, our core values, are secure across the globe.”

View our gallery from the AIEA annual conference 2022 here.

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