“Ethical agents should support direct student admissions”

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Students occasionally ask one co-author, who has lived and worked in Viet Nam since 2005, whether or not they can apply directly. The answer is an enthusiastic ‘Yes’, if they feel sufficiently confident.

The original working title, Imagine a World Without Agents, We Wonder If You Can – with a grateful nod to John Lennon – was probably too long, which is why the editor changed it to Ethical agents should support direct student admissions.  (Yes, Imagine was intended to be provocative but not clickbait. :-)) 

Actually, Eddie West and I are referring not only to agents but to everyone involved in international student recruitment.  While direct application is not for everyone, as we point out, it is a positive trend we see in Viet Nam and elsewhere among certain types of students.

This article is the third in a trilogy about what we identify as the “fatal flaw” in commissions-based recruitment.  The other two – in descending chronological order – are as follows:

International recruitment – Are education agents welcome? (8.3.19)

An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment (26.10.18)

We’ll be discussing these issues at NAFSA at two events, the first an unofficial seminar and the second a general session.  Follow this link for more information, including online registration for the two seminars.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“International education ‘number one priority’ for US bureau”

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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

 

Unofficial, Pre-Conference Seminar About Commissions-Based Recruitment @ NAFSA 2019

 Ethical Commissions-Based Recruitment:  The Need for a New Way

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Join Mark Ashwill, managing director and co-founder of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company in Viet Nam and former country director of the Institute of International Education-Viet Nam,

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Eddie West, assistant dean, UC Berkeley Extension, and executive director, international programs, and former director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC),

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and Lindsay Addington, director of global engagement at NACAC, for a lively discussion and exploration of ways to improve upon the current flawed model of agency-based international student recruitment. 

The brief presentation and discussion are based on this statement, which Ashwill and West made in an October 2018 University World News article entitled An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment

The fatal flaw in commissioned recruitment is that most agents prioritise their partner schools’ interests over those of the students and parents they advise. This means that most guide or, in many cases, drive students to their partner schools because of the gold (commission) at the end of the rainbow (enrolment process). 

[The second co-authored article in a three-part series was published on 8 March, also by University World NewsInternational recruitment – Are education agents welcome?]

The purpose of this seminar is not to debate the merits of commissions-based recruitment but to bring together colleagues who are interested in exploring ways in which it can be made more ethical to the benefit of international students and their parents, in addition to admitting institutions and education agents. 

This special event will be held from 3:30-5 p.m. on Monday, May 27, 2019 in downtown Washington, D.C.  (The exact location will be sent to all confirmed participants.) 

The seminar is free of charge and refreshments will be served. Online registration is required.

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A heartfelt thanks to Study in the USA for its sponsorship! 

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Related Announcement:  Eddie West, Mark Ashwill, and Mayumi Kowta will talk about Commissions-Based International Student Recruitment Agents: Is There a Better Way? at a general session from 10-11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 29 at NAFSA 2019.  

“Foreign student numbers should be cut, say Australians”

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A national survey, commissioned by the University of New South Wales (UNSW), unexpectedly revealed the growing public antagonism to the international visitors.

So much so that a majority of people now believe the government should call a halt to any increase in their numbers.

I wonder when we’ll hear this from the MAGA crowd and its Dear Leader in the US?  Is it the next nativist shoe to drop?  Perhaps a survey waiting to be conducted and, if the result mirrors that of Australia, yet another nail in the coffin of US international student recruitment.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam

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Follow this link to read my latest article, which is about a phenomenon I’ve observed over the years, namely, how some young Vietnamese who study in the USA become what I refer to as honorary US nationalists.  (If you’re not sure what nationalism means, have a look at this 2016 essayHint:  It’s quite different from patriotism.)  

Here’s an excerpt:  

Overseas study is a unique opportunity to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the host country, all the colors of its social, political, and economic rainbow, as it were, a sentiment echoed by Senator J. William Fulbright, whose name is synonymous with international educational exchange in the country of his birth:  There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is–not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is… [From the Forward of The Fulbright Program: A History]

My advice to these three young Vietnamese, whose stories I have shared, and others like them, regardless of nationality, is as follows: Learn more about your country’s history, the sacrifices made by previous generations, and the role of foreign powers in domestic affairs. Learn about other countries as they are, not as some people wish you to see them. Preserve your intellectual and spiritual independence and, by doing so, retain your integrity. Finally, never allow yourselves to be used by people whose primary concern is their own country, especially when those interests run contrary to those of your country, and other nations and peoples. Be true to yourselves and to historical truth.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Top US 10 States & Leading Host Institutions by Location

open doors 2018689,063 international students in the US in 2017/18, or 63% of the total, studied in 10 states, according to Open Doors 2018 data.  You can see a list of 50 states and some US territories by following this link, or click on each state below to see its fact sheet (PDF download).  Each fact sheet lists the top 5 places of origin for international students by percentage and the top five host institutions in that state, in addition to the percentage change from the previous academic year and the estimated international student expenditure in that state.  

1) CA: 161,942
2) NY: 121,260
3) TX: 84,348
4) MA: 68,192
5) IL: 53,362
6) PA: 51,817
7) FL: 46,516
8) OH: 37,583
9) MI: 34,049
10) IN: 29,994

You’ll notice that most have large urban centers, which is where most US Americans lives.  Below is a composite image of the continental US at night in 2016.  (Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)  

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Now here are the top 25 leading host institutions, which enrolled 251,972 international students last year, or 23% of the total, followed by a map of the US that indicates clusters of high international enrollment.

top 10 leading institutions

11-20 top

21-25

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One conclusion to be drawn from the above is that if your institution is not located in one of the top 10 states, the challenge of recruiting international students, in addition to everything else that is currently on our collective plate, is more daunting.  You simply have to be more proactive and, to use an old tagline, try harder.  There are many individual success stories and concrete reasons for institutions’ success in international student recruitment.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA