International higher education

Laureate sells several global assets

Global education giant Laureate sells off some international institutions and refocuses on emerging markets. 

Council of Graduate Schools survey finds declines in international applications, new enrollments

Council of Graduate Schools finds 1 percent decline in new international students and 3 percent decline in international applications. The dips were concentrated in master's programs and at less research-intensive universities.

UT Austin rejects funding from Chinese government-linked foundation


UT Austin says it will not accept funding from a foundation after concerns were raised about its connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

British university backs out of plans for California campus


Concept may have been the most ambitious plan by a foreign university to build a branch campus in the U.S.

Western-style university in Russia is hamstrung as authorities keep denying its license to teach


A Western-style university in Russia is hamstrung as authorities keep denying its license to teach.

A professor resists departmental attempt to add a female author to class reading list for sake of gender balance

A departmental committee told a professor he had to teach Judith Butler in his class in the name of gender balance. He refused. As for Butler, she doesn’t want her work forced on him.

Essay in support of Turkish group Academics for Freedom

Peaceful protest carries no guarantee against violence. In mid-May, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, came to the United States to meet with Donald Trump, who had made haste to congratulate him on winning a referendum in April. Its provisions would -- according to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe -- undercut “the model of a democratic presidential system based on the separation of powers” and thereby “risk degeneration into an authoritarian presidential system.”

By most standards, the risk was already a fait accompli, though the referendum (which had passed narrowly and with voting irregularities) further tightened the screws. What it could not do was prevent critics from assembling outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington. Erdoğan’s bodyguards responded by attacking the demonstrators -- punching them, throwing them to the ground, kicking them -- and also managed to injure D.C. police and Secret Service agents who got in the way.

In fact, things were just picking up where they’d left off one year earlier, during Erdoğan’s appearance at the Brookings Institute, a few blocks away. “His security detail abused Brookings’s hospitality,” says the account from April 2016 on the institute’s website. “They picked fistfights with demonstrators and attempted to evict Turkish journalists,” and found themselves threatened with a cancellation of the event “if they did not desist with their thuggish behavior.”

The whole experience was unsettling to think-tank staff, who are not often called on to serve as bouncers. “The president and his security detail clearly failed to recognize the protests for what they were,” reads Brookings’s assessment of the event: “a natural and accepted activity in a democracy rather than an imagined conspiracy against Turkey.” The same could be said about the skirmish in May -- although chiding a swarm of goons for failing “to recognize … natural and accepted activity in a democracy” seems to carry politeness a little too far.

Inside Higher Ed has reported on the campaign of repression against Academics for Peace, an organization of Turkish scholars and educators with the temerity to criticize the state’s ongoing violence against the country’s Kurdish population. The situation is worsening. On Dec. 5, hearings began in Istanbul for 36 of the 148 signatories scheduled for trial through May 2018. If convicted, they face prison sentences of up to seven and a half years.

Currently there is an open letter appealing for academics abroad “to show their solidarity by joining delegations to Turkey as international observers at the trials and by sending financial support.” It has already been endorsed by numerous professors and is gathering more signatures here.

A paper appearing in the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism earlier this year acknowledges that “prison time has often served as punishment for academics challenging the state’s narrative on the Kurdish Question or the Armenian Genocide, which together constitute the ‘third rail’ in Turkish politics.” But prosecution of such thoughtcrimes tended to be “sporadic and unsystematic” before the Academics for Peace petition circulated in January 2016, drawing 1,128 signatories. Among them were the two of the three authors of the paper, which, if not disinterested, is certainly informative. (All three now work outside Turkey.)

The state’s response was to broaden the definition of terrorism. In Erdoğan's words, “It might be the terrorist who pulls the trigger and detonates the bomb, but it is these supporters and accomplices who allow that attack to achieve its goal. The fact their title is politician, academic, writer, journalist or head of a civil society group doesn’t change the fact that individual is a terrorist.” In fact, the petition called on the Turkish state to honor its own treaties and obey international law. Really bloodcurdling stuff.

While awaiting trial on terrorism charges, signatories often faced the loss of jobs and passports, as well a wave of attacks in mass media -- leading, in turn, to death threats from enraged social-media users. It may bear mentioning that Erdoğan has also prosecuted people for criticizing him via Twitter.

The paper in Critical Studies on Terrorism posits the attack on Academics for Peace as an instance of “a broader wave of ‘democratic retrenchment’ across the [globe] since the 2000s,” leading to authoritarian regimes that hold elections to legitimate themselves while concentrating power in the hands of “a ‘dominant leader’ through the instrumentalisation of state apparatuses and the ruling [party’s] hegemony over civil society and the media.”

The recent open letter in support of the persecuted Turkish academics has been endorsed by, at last count, seven Nobel laureates, three Fields medalists and two Pulitzer Prize recipients. Solidarity organizers tell me the signatures will be periodically updated on the English-language part of the Academics for Peace site, along with other statements of support and news about developments in the case.

Academics for Peace is soliciting video statements by international colleagues who condemn the persecution, such as one by Steven Pinker. A group of academics, trade unionists, artists and politicians from abroad is being assembled to attend the hearing scheduled for Jan. 18. To inquire about submitting a video, observing the hearing or helping to finance the delegation, contact the organizers.

Financial donations in support of the persecuted academics themselves are also urgently welcome and may be made here.

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Turkish President Erdoğan giving a speech attacking academics in 2016.
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International students need different education programs on sexual assault and other issues (essay)

Sexual assault on college campuses continues to be a major focus of news media and to demand serious attention from campus administrators. In spite of, or perhaps due to, recent efforts by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to cut back on the government’s Title IX oversight and enforcement, many campuses are recommitting themselves to following the best practices for protecting against and dealing with sexual assaults.

Regardless of any changes in oversight, we all know sexual assault is a pervasive problem on college campuses. We’ve read the stories, we’ve seen the statistics. Campus administrators generally agree that a college or university should continue to serve a distinct role as both an active educator and as a reactive support system on issues ranging from sexual health and behavior to assault and misconduct.

While institutions offer a variety of resources and support, one-size-fits all, blanket approaches intended to reach all students may very well miss a vulnerable population on the campus: international students. They come to our campuses from all around the globe looking to seize the rich and rewarding opportunities that our higher education system provides. In turn, they bring with them a cultural diversity that can be seen and felt across the institution. And when it comes to sexual education, international students have distinct needs that programs designed for their domestic peers don’t typically address.

Colleges and universities must take appropriate steps to educate, support and protect those students, taking into account varying levels of sexual education as well as cultural and social norms that may differ greatly in students’ home countries. A lack of understanding of what domestic students consider to be social norms and sexual cues -- like “no means no” -- can lead to confusing or awkward situations. Or worse, those misunderstandings can make international students vulnerable to victimization.

As colleges develop sexual health resources and support programs, they must consider who on campus is best equipped to lead those efforts for international students. Even though many campuses have established specific positions and sometimes entire departments to prevent and respond to sexual violence, those officials aren’t necessarily trained in the nuances of international student experiences and may overlook crucial elements in discussing sexual education with this distinct population. We would argue that a better and more comprehensive approach brings together a variety of campus departments -- including the international students office, the violence prevention office, campus police and the mental health and counseling center -- to develop and deliver programming that doesn’t make assumptions of prior knowledge and establishes a strong foundation of understanding.

It’s not enough to simply hand international students a pamphlet or give them a 15-minute safe sex lecture. In talking about sex with international students, not only will institutional administrators be talking about topics the student has potentially never discussed, but there are also language and cultural barriers to overcome. A student might not know the proper English term for a vagina or penis, or that slang like “Netflix and chill” is a euphemism for sex. Programs must address topics that may be considered common knowledge among domestic students, such as the definition of sexual assault and what a culture of disclosure means.

Further, international students may not have a strong understanding of the laws and rights that protect them or those that make them potentially vulnerable. For example, a finding of misconduct can result in their being dismissed from the campus or removed from certain classes, which can threaten their visa status. Those are pieces of assumed knowledge among domestic students, but if not explained to international students, it can lead to potentially dangerous situations and result in an increased risk of mental health issues. It can also significantly hinder student retention and persistence.

A required program at Fraser International College at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, incorporates sexual education into the transition curriculum for all new international students. The material is embedded in a course that lasts a semester and covers everything students need to know to get used to their new lives. The sexual education portion covers consent and healthy communication, sexual health and gender orientation, and the cultural and societal norms around sex.

With each topic, the program starts with ensuring that all students have a common understanding and realize the importance of communication around such issues. The key is making students feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Students are able to submit questions anonymously and discuss the answers together, which helps to build a safe community through peer support. It’s important to open up a dialogue and demonstrate there is a wide range of views, from conservative to more liberal, about sex and to ultimately help students navigate those views so they can make safe and healthy decisions.

In addition, the university takes great care to let students know that they can ask questions throughout their academic program. It actively recruits instructors who teach other subjects, like accounting or media studies, to facilitate sexual education workshops and classes. Having a familiar face opening the conversation up about sex, relationships and identity builds a rapport between instructors and students and reinforces a culture of disclosure. Each interaction helps open the door a little wider so students know they do not have to approach uncomfortable, serious or dangerous situations alone.

Creating a safe campus experience for all students is a major priority for colleges and universities. Campuses that start to recognize and embrace the power of creating dialogues through sexual education will be helping protect vulnerable populations like international students while simultaneously making their campus a safer and more positive environment for all students.

Sharla Reid is the academic director at Fraser International College, a partnership between Simon Fraser University and Navitas, a global provider of university pathway programs for international students. Jill Dunlap is the director for equity, inclusion and violence prevention at NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Prior to joining NASPA, Jill was director of the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus advocacy, resources and education program.

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Hong Kong university commissions audit after being accused of submitting inaccurate numbers for rankings

A Hong Kong university is accused of underreporting enrollment numbers to boost its faculty-student ratio and ranking. The university says it is commissioning an independent audit but emphasizes that there are differences in data definitions.

American students should be encouraged to study abroad in stable countries in the Middle East and North Africa (essay)

Over the archway to the Ben Youssef madrassa in Marrakech, Morocco, appears the following inscription: “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.” As students preparing for careers in religion, law and science were welcomed to this institution for half a millennium, so visitors today are invited inside to experience the wonders of Morocco. This academy -- with its ornate central pool reflecting colorful mosaic tiles, carved cedar woodwork and smooth marble pillars within the courtyard -- continues to serve as an oasis for those seeking knowledge and serenity.

After teaching and conducting research as a Fulbright scholar 20 years ago in Tunisia, I have returned to neighboring Morocco to engage again in these activities. Much has changed with travel and living abroad. Back then, my suitcase contained a film camera, short-wave radio, TV/VCR combo and primitive laptop computer. Today, my rolling duffel bag carries a digital camera, smartphone, tablet, much-improved laptop computer and portable LCD projector. Rather than relying on newspapers and magazines to remain current with world events, I now watch videos, listen to podcasts and access websites over the internet. For better or worse, the world is much smaller due to recent technological innovations.

The relationship between the United States and the Arab world has also been forever altered in the past several decades. I remember the guarded optimism rising from the ashes of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Many of us hoped that there would be additional interest on American campuses about study abroad opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa, or the MENA. Expectations also increased with the Obama administration’s “new way forward.” Such anticipation was bolstered by changes in the countries spanning the region in the early 2000s. New and young leaders were emerging, and many believed they would embrace democracy, modernization and privatization.

But, unfortunately, conflict and destabilization have intensified in many of those countries. And as a result, while the U.S. government and universities have made various contributions, many of the aspirations about this region -- and the role international education can play in it -- have yet to be realized. It is crucial that American university students pursue education abroad opportunities in the MENA. The 22 countries and close to 400 million citizens in this region are inextricably linked to U.S. foreign policy, trade and other vital interests.

The percentage of students from the United States who participate in study abroad programs in the MENA continues to be extremely low. According to the 2016 Open Doors Survey conducted by the Institute of International Education, only 2.2 percent of students who studied abroad (or 6,844 out of 313,415) did so in the region. My sense is that relatively few American faculty members are active in the Arab world. At the same time, however, more than 10 percent of the international students studying in America come from the region. And although the 2005 Lincoln Study Abroad Commission proposed federal funding to reduce this type of international education deficit, the bill failed to garner sufficient support.

Meanwhile, Morocco has forged ahead. Various reforms have positively affected its citizens. Tourism has increased while terrorism has been minimized. The phrase often used for this phenomenon is “Moroccan exceptionalism.” Although such a description is perhaps premature, educators would do well to explore a country such as Morocco when considering opportunities in the Arab world.

Rather than withdraw from a region that is perceived to be in crisis, international education administrators and faculty members in the United States have a responsibility to seek out opportunities in stable countries within the Arab world. Students must be encouraged to consider education opportunities outside Western Europe. Certain countries, of course, appear on travel warning lists, and precautions must be taken when encouraging students and faculty members to travel to the region. American institutions must manage travel risks and formulate a crisis-response plan long before sending students abroad.

How can universities participate in international education activities that focus on the MENA?

The following suggestions allow for engagement.

  • Collaborate with other institutions and organizations promoting activities in the region. Representatives from the Fulbright program, the Peace Corps, the Boren Awards, Rotary International and other organizations are eager to visit campuses to highlight opportunities in the Arab world. In addition, financial support is often available from these organizations for students and faculty members who want to further develop their areas of expertise or have skills to offer. The Fulbright program also provides financial support for Arab scholars to teach and study at colleges and universities in the United States. When students at American institutions interact with individuals representing the MENA, they are better equipped to pursue opportunities in the Arab world. I have fond memories of hosting an Algerian sociologist in California for a three-week period in which he spoke on topics ranging from rai music to human rights.
  • Partner with local experts with knowledge of the Arab world. American campuses often have students, faculty members and community members with a wealth of knowledge about the region. Such individuals should be invited to share their experience. In addition, dialogue with them should be ongoing and integrated into academic and residential life -- not just relegated to, say, a short talk during International Education Week. By seeking out local experts, universities can provide insights about Arabs in the United States and abroad.
  • Keep an open mind and consider stable countries when sending students and faculty abroad. Along with certain other Arab countries, Morocco already hosts American students and faculty members. Universities and study-abroad program providers in the region offer international education opportunities, and there is potential for continued growth. International education administrators and faculty members in the United States should consider each Arab country and specific regions within the country on its own merits. Managing potential risks requires all participants -- sponsors, students and family members -- to understand the rewards and responsibilities within the MENA.
  • Encourage students to take advantage of a wide range of course work and service-learning experiences. Arabic language and cultural programs remain an essential part of education abroad, but other curricular and community service offerings exist as well. Numerous institutions in the region, recognized by internationally accreditation boards, deliver high-quality engineering, business and architecture programs. Students can enroll in major courses while also studying Islamic banking or architecture. They can also be involved in current issues such as refugee studies, for example, while participating in service learning.
  • Use technology effectively to bridge the distance. While in Morocco, I have participated in online video conferences and email exchanges with individuals and groups at universities in the United States. Along with my introducing the Fulbright Scholar program and encouraging them to apply for such grants, American students and faculty members have asked questions about the Moroccan monarchy, higher education and multilingualism. Technology is effective for continuing discussion as well as when travel to or from a country is challenging.

A number of Moroccan graduate students are participating in Erasmus-funded exchanges with European universities. Some of my colleagues in Morocco, however, continue to ask why American universities are not more engaged with institutions in their country and in the MENA at large. In this era of widespread misunderstanding about the Arab world, American universities must seek out opportunities for their students in this region. The lives and livelihoods of many individuals in both areas depend upon mutual knowledge and respect. In spite of obstacles, the doorways to educational institutions should continue to beckon to all who wish to enter.

John Battenburg is Fulbright senior scholar in Morocco and professor of English at California Polytechnic State University.

Image Caption: 
Doorway of Ben Youssef madrassa
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