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US educators reevaluate global education in Trump era

International educators in the US are taking another look at how they promote and prioritise a global education in an ever more nationalistic political environment. At the 35th annual Association of International Education Administrators conference in Washington DC this week, concerns were high as stakeholders reevaluated student mobility and international partnerships.

AIEA conference on international educationAIEA's post-election roundtable session was packed with stakeholders from inside and outside the US speaking about the challenges international higher education now faces. Photo: The PIE News

"The circumstances in the last few months have forced us to have conversations we should have had in the past"

In a post-election roundtable session, educators from inside and outside the US, discussed ways to take action and “connect with those who feel forgotten”.

“We are learning how to speak a foreign language, we’re learning how to ‘speak Trump’ in order to have an impact,” said one delegate. “We have to connect where [students] are.”

“We are learning how to speak a foreign language, we’re learning how to speak Trump”

Reaching beyond the academy isn’t something higher education leaders do well, she said, suggesting universities turn to the private sector to illuminate the benefits of global connections on employment that will “get students better jobs not in the coal mines”.

“We need to call on our allies and have them speak for us; it’s a better approach than galvanising behind the liberal elite.”

Others identified a complacency among educators that is beginning to change: “On our campus there are discussions with people where there hadn’t been before. The circumstances in the last few months have forced us to have conversations we should have had in the past with diversity officers and permanent residence officers.”

Educators also urged each other not to forget that “there are significant [numbers of] Trump supporters on our campuses”.

They also considered the repercussions of failing economies on the US elections. A delegate from Africa pointed out that higher education leaders have very few discussions about the “serious economic policy failures in the Western world” and how they have led to a “global challenge”.

“You need to ask yourselves what percentage of students can have an international experience on campus. How are local students benefitting from international students?” he charged.

Meanwhile, a delegate from Germany called for better teacher training in order to bridge the divide between higher education and high schools, and underlined that “study abroad is still just for the elite”.

Universities aren’t the only providers who are concerned about the possibility of a future immigration crackdown in the form of a revised executive order after the January 27 travel ban on seven mostly Muslim countries was halted by a court of appeals earlier this month.

After a tough 2016 marked deeply by the scaling back of Saudi Arabia’s scholarship programme, English as a second language providers are vulnerable to any downward shift in enrolments. Many have seen numbers continue to drop, with more closures predicted by the end of the year.

“There’s no better time to strengthen our international partnerships”

On a positive note, delegates said they do feel confident in the support from their overseas partners. “People around the world are feeling sorry for us,” noted one delegate from the University of California system. “There’s no better time to strengthen our international partnerships.”

And the future of students registered for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival programme, which enables foreign nationals brought into the US illegally as children to remain in the country for a renewable two-year period, remains uncertain.

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released guidelines on how to enforce new immigration directives from President Trump that say the DACA programme will remain intact.  Still, the programme is a “huge political hot potato”, according to David Ware, a lawyer and founding partner at Ware Immigration.

Educators are preparing themselves for an increase in visits from law enforcement, who could be asking for access to DACA students or international students.

“Campuses need to have a defined process for law enforcement agency visits,” counselled Ware.  He added that it’s not advisable for universities to declare themselves a ‘sanctuary campus’.

“It has no legal meaning and it’s dangerous times, you don’t want to stick your head up,” he warned, telling delegates that ensuring all staff and faculty understand the privacy laws protecting students under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is more important.

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