Walls in Unexpected Places

Polls and the seemingly self-destructive nature of Trump’s campaign distracted many of us from another half of America’s population.

November 20, 2016

The news since November 8 has been both confusing and shocking. The election of Donald Trump came as a tsunami for the higher education community in the US and elsewhere in the world. The election results in the US followed the growing trend of nationalist populism in countries like Hungary, Israel, Poland, Turkey, The Philippines with similar movements growing stronger in Austria, Italy, France and The Netherlands. But polls and the seemingly self-destructive nature of Trump’s campaign distracted many of us from another half of America’s population — many individuals who didn’t share our values and concerns, just as much as we didn’t understand theirs. Globalization, for a long time perceived by the anti-globalists as negative, neo-liberal and for greater profit, has gradually and silently become confused with a progressive agenda to save the planet, at least for many of us who see ourselves as cosmopolitan global citizens, advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, and are connected to our peers around the world by technology. We seem to have overlooked our local neighbours who were not as comfortable or secure to feel the same way and Trump’s election is a wake-up call to recognize that global and local must go hand in hand.  

Where Trump’s election, like Brexit and other anti-globalist trends, has become synonymous with anti-immigration, building walls and the inevitable decline in international student and scholar mobility, the 2016 Open Doors report showed a different picture: 1 million international students are now in the US with an increase in American students studying abroad.  These are record numbers! What do these conflicting realities tell us about prospects for the future? Do we foresee that these record numbers will now decline or stagnate for at least the coming four years? Will international students (be forced to) go to our northern neighbors in Canada, no longer as welcome in the US and UK where there are strong anti-immigrant movements?

Who will be the beneficiaries and losers going forward? We may assume that the Ivy League universities in the US and the UK will not be affected by recent developments or populist movements, rather it will be those universities located in more remote areas with lower rankings that will most likely have trouble attracting international students.  At the same time domestic students might be less enthusiastic about exploring the dangerous world outside their home country, not to mention the lack of support from their anxious parents. Institutions located in areas with low employment and low enrolments, are most likely to be the losers in the near term when they lose the significant revenue that international students represent. Trump and his supporters might be shooting themselves in the foot with their anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The growing dysfunctionality of globalization

On Thursday, November 10, without much advanced notice, Canada introduced a new online visa application for non US-citizens, eTA, similar to ESTA, online screening used by the US[lr1]  to register inbound foreign visitors. One has to wonder why Canada, generally seen as an exception to the international trend of growing xenophobia and increased anti-immigration policies around the world, suddenly decided to do this. Did they not recently sign a free trade agreement with the European Union and have they not announced that as of December 1, Mexicans will no longer need a visa to enter the country? It might be that the Canadian government intended only to get a better grip on incoming mobility. Fine, but then they might have implemented this increased screening in a more customer friendly way or at least have employed better technology to make it possible to obtain the visa quickly at the departure airport.   

My personal experience with this seemingly abrupt policy to make the Canadian border tighter, cost me a flight to Ottawa where I was scheduled to present a keynote at the 50th anniversary conference of the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), on the topic (of all things!) of the implications of Brexit and US elections for Canadian higher education. After three attempts (!) over 7 hours to secure the visa, I was finally successful, but too late to arrive at the conference in time for my presentation. So much for national security.

The irony of the story is that while my American and European friends were teasing me when I told them that I was traveling to Canada after the election, asking, “Are you going to emigrate to Canada because of Trump?”, the first country to deny me access is (supposedly) the most welcoming country for immigrants and refugees in the world.

These are confusing times! Yet, I remain more concerned about Trump by Trudeau!



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