International Higher Education in the Age of Trump
by John D. Heyl, PhD
Founder and Editor, IELeaders.net
Posted October 26, 2017
Since the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency about a year ago, various groups have attempted to predict the impact of his election on diverse sectors of higher education.
For example, a group of scientists and librarians huddled over US government websites in January, trying to determine what data can be saved offsite in case the Trump administration decides to delete these data from public view. A team at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, among other things, was downloading data sets from the EPA, NOAA and the Department of Energy, in particular, as the remarks of newly appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt implied these data may not be available in the future.1
Social scientists are struggling with a somewhat different scenario. Professional standards in these fields require highly rigorous and technical papers for journals and academic conferences. But reacting and applying one's knowledge to actual political events calls for communication through politically focused think tanks, various topical websites or public forums. One observer notes: "Think tanks and NGOs have a greater ability to weigh in on policy, be less descriptive, and set out recommendations for what to do."2 A public forum in downtown Tucson, Arizona, in October brought together professors in communications and political science and the executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at UA to discuss issues of trust "in our 'post-truth' era of alternative facts and fake news."3
International higher education faces similar but different issues as well in confronting the Trump era. Some initial reactions to Trump's election were alarming, even alarmist.
For example, Madeleine Green, Senior Fellow at the International Initiatives at the American Council on Education, said that Trump's election has "opened the floodgates" to those who would question the value of international education.4 Meanwhile, Philip Altbach and Hans de Wit have written of a "sea-change in the patterns of higher education internationalization" following the Trump election.5
These reactions were certainly no surprise in light of Trump's campaign attacks on "globalizers," Muslim and Mexican immigrants in particular and immigration more broadly and various multilateral agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris Climate Accord and, more recently, the Iran Nuclear Deal and UNESCO.
To be sure, nationalist trends - even nativist/anti-immigrant/isolationist ones - have always been latent in US politics. In the past, they have sometimes (but rarely) held sway even on the national stage. On the other hand, it is possible that faith in the kind of globalization that Thomas Friedman proclaimed in his path-breaking The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (1999) - along with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union - blinded international educators to the inevitable backlash against globalization, both at home and abroad. For radical Islam is clearly one of the many forms of this backlash. Domestic US attacks on the "globalizers" in Washington, DC, Silicon Valley and outsourcing companies reflects yet another stream of the same animus. And the backlash is now transatlantic. As New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, from his perch in Berlin, recently observed: "An autocratic, nativist, xenophobic, nationalist reaction is now in full swing on both sides of the Atlantic. . . . "6
Truth be told, a good deal of international education in the past two-plus decades, despite real efforts and considerable achievements expanding domestic participation in international activities, IE continues to attract a small percentage on college campuses. Thus IE has in fact gone mainstream on an increasing number of campuses. Faculty engagement is higher than ever. Study abroad participation has doubled in the past 15 years to 313, 415 in 2015-2016. Still, fewer than 10% (dare I say “elite”?) of all US college graduates
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