At the February IIE Summit 2019, Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), US State Department, told her audience that international education is the #1 priority for ECA. Her deputy, Caroline Casagrande, confirmed that “additional resources” have been obtained to promote outbound and inbound study abroad. What “additional resources,” I wonder?
In terms of inbound students, I’m afraid the horse has left the barn and that whatever support the US State Department has to offer is too little, too late. The elephant in the room of the IIE Summit was, of course, Donald Trump and MAGA, who really don’t care about international students, at best. Naturally, no one at IIE can say that because one of the golden rules in the NGO world is “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Since IIE received 78.2% of its 2017 revenue from “government grants,” that’s a lot of food! (That percentage was once heading south in the interest of diversification, i.e., don’t put too many of your budgetary eggs in one basket – to the credit of IIE – but I guess some things are not meant to be.)
In fact, the view of the vocal nativist minority may shift from not caring to wanting to fewer international students to study in the US following in the footsteps of a recent survey in Australia in which 54% of the respondents, admittedly barely a simple majority, thought that international student numbers should not be increased.
If international education is going to be the “number one priority” for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), it is probably in word only. As usual, US educational institutions are on their own and, in fact, are saddled with the additional burden of having to work against the negatives that have piled up during the Trump administration in- and outside the Beltway.
Following a point/counterpoint format, here are some additional observations:
“We face growing international competition to attract the world’s globally mobile students. While we are already making great strides to respond to these new challenges, we must step up our game.” What are the “great strides” ECA is making, pray tell?
“At ECA our goals are clear,” said Royce, underlining that US government is committed to both outbound and inbound exchanges – and explaining that president Donald Trump began penning letters to all US Department of State exchange participants in 2018. A symbolic act that, in Trump’s case, only means he likes to see his name appear in as many documents as possible.
ECA also “actively supports” America’s competitive education advantage through its Education USA network, which operates in 180 countries, with 435 centres and 550 advisors to promote American colleges and universities abroad, she reminded. While EducationUSA is useful, it is hardly a competitive advantage. On a related issue, I hope ECA thinks long and hard about its decision to work with education agents, embraced by the pro-agent crowd but not by EducationUSA in the field.
However, cost is a “leading reason that students decide not to pursue US study” Royce said, and ECA “wants to raise awareness abroad that there are study options at many price points”. Cost is one of many factors contributing to the steady decline of international students choosing the USA as an overseas study destination. Others include gun violence, the widespread perception that the US is not as open and welcoming as it once was and, in the case of countries, Trump himself, who has insulted a long and growing list of peoples and countries.
The fact that IIE awarded ECA the first centennial medal is yet another example of that organization kissing the hand that feeds, given how much of IIE’s budget still comes from the US State Department.
Finally, as with the rhetorical open arms embrace of education agents, announced by the same two ECA political appointees last December, we’ll have to wait and see if they’re planning to walk the walk. If so, what will the impact be, if any? I won’t hold my breath. The latest is that EducationUSA may provide training to education agents. That could be a good thing if it’s done in the right way and agents are probibited from using text or images from such events in an attempt at honor by association. As mentioned in a recent co-authored article, the devil is in the details.
Postscript: Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the UK government has published a new International Education Strategy that outlines “plans to increase students numbers and income generated from international education.” While I’d prefer less emphasis be placed on the revenue benefit of hosting large numbers of international students, I understand that’s the key selling point for most policymakers. Having said that, the UK and other governments that value international students have something that the US government does not currently have – a STRATEGY.
Shalom (שלום), MAA