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Friday, June 19, 2020, 15:38
New visa policy will hurt the US
By Wang Yan
Friday, June 19, 2020, 15:38 By Wang Yan

Many nations offer attractive terms to bolster the supply of skilled personnel, promote innovation

For many countries in today’s world, attracting international students is a way to tap into the global pool of talent, promote innovation, and bolster the supply of skilled personnel. In fact, many countries have increased the incentives or lowered the barriers for foreign students in order to attract global talent.

By contrast, the United States has issued a policy tightening visa rules. What will be the impact of the policy on international students’ pursuit of higher education?

Worldwide, the number of students pursuing tertiary education in foreign countries increased from 2 million in 1998 to 5.3 million in 2017.

In particular, OECD countries have seen continuous growth in the number of international students in recent years. But the opposite trend is evident in the US.

According to the US Institute of International Education’s data, 1,095,299 international students were studying in the US in 2018-19, a slight increase of 0.05 percent over 2017-18, yet much lower than the average growth rate of 5.26 percent in the past decade.

Enrollments of new international students in the US (students enrolling for the first time in a US institution) fell by 7 percent in 2017-18, and declined another 0.9 percent in 2018-19. The enrollments in undergraduate, postgraduate and non-degree programs have fallen 2.4 percent, 1.3 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

Chinese students make up the largest group of foreign students in the US. There were 369,548 students from China in the US in 2018-19, a 1.7 percent increase over the previous school year but the lowest year-on-year growth since the 2009-10 school year.

Chinese students are important for many US institutions, as they are a vital source of tuition fees and vital to advanced research. And tuition fees are a significant source of income for many US colleges.

Besides, the US government pays just 35 percent of the cost of tertiary education (compared with OECD countries’ average of 66 percent), with household spending constituting 46 percent of the overall tertiary education cost (much higher than the OECD average of 23 percent).

When it comes to international students, personal and family funding accounts for 83.5 percent of the expenditure on education at the undergraduate level and 57.8 percent at the postgraduate level, whereas US colleges and universities pay only 8.8 percent and 36.4 percent at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, respectively.

Also, US universities charge much higher tuition fees than other OECD countries. For instance, the annual tuition fees for a full-time student are on average US$8,804 in a public institution and US$29,478 in an independent private institution. Also, public institutions charge over US$13,900 more a year for foreign undergraduate students on average.

Moreover, international students at US colleges and universities contributed US$41 billion to the US economy and supported 458,290 jobs during the 2018-19 school year.

The US universities and colleges that rely on tuition and other fees for their revenue might suffer a heavy blow if they lose Chinese students. No wonder many US universities have urged the administration to preserve the practice of international student exchange, so they can continue to admit foreign students.

The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and American Council on Education have even asked the government to draft policies that do not limit foreign students’ enrollments in US colleges and their invaluable contribution to the country.

“This new policy would be bad for institutions and bad for the nation,” said Ted Mitchell, president of ACE. The policy, aimed at restricting Chinese students in certain fields of science, technology, engineering and math, will have a chilling effect on the US’ ability to attract foreign students.

But the US’ visa restriction policy might be good news for other OECD countries and their higher education institutions, because they can now attract larger numbers of foreign students and tap into a wider pool of potential talent, and thus get a larger share of the international education market.

Actually, many countries are in favor of internationalizing higher education by enacting appropriate policies to build an attractive research environment in order to attract the best doctoral candidates from around the world — and play a leading role in scientific research and innovation.

Countries such as Australia, Italy and Switzerland offer attractive terms to attract doctoral candidates, in order to lure talent from across the world. In general, the ability to attract international students has become a major criterion to assess the quality and performance of educational institutions and allocating funds to these, which in turn are opening up new, diversified destinations for international students.

After all, global student mobility is determined by differentials in education capacity, returns on investment in education, affordable tuition fees and expenses, as well as economic performance and the political stability of a country. Hence, even without the visa restriction policy, many students would choose an alternative destination for higher education, due to the recent socioeconomic developments in the US.

The US administration’s visa regulation, which signals “unwelcomeness”, is inconsistent with the IIE’s open-door policy for international education, which says that “when education transcends borders, it opens minds, enabling people to go beyond building connections to solving problems together”.

The IIE’s vision is one of “a peaceful, equitable world enriched by the international exchange of ideas and greater understanding between people and cultures”. Given the US administration’s policy developments, we can only wait and see whether the US can realize this vision.

The author is a senior specialist and director of the department for international exchange, National Institute of Education Sciences. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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