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From: Karin Fischer
Subject: Latitudes: For International-Education Leaders, the Job’s About ‘Managing the Gray’
For senior international officers, new priorities — and new challenges
The role of the senior international officer, the top campus administrator responsible for global education, has been evolving, and the Covid-19 pandemic has likely accelerated those changes, according to a
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For senior international officers, new priorities — and new challenges
The role of the senior international officer, the top campus administrator responsible for global education, has been evolving, and the Covid-19 pandemic has probably accelerated those changes, according to a report from the Institute of International Education.
While the report was originally meant to be a historical look at the role, the institute’s research ended up highlighting the current and future challenges facing SIOs, said Mirka Martel, the group’s head of research, evaluation, and learning, who wrote the paper with Allan Goodman, its chief executive.
Since the pandemic began, managing health and safety risks has taken on more importance — a shift that comes as little surprise. But other areas have also taken on greater urgency, including strategic planning, fostering innovation and learning, and increasing support for international education, the institute found in a survey of international administrators.
Dealing with immigration policy and leveraging technology to expand global-education opportunities were also bigger priorities.
Advocating for the importance of international education will probably continue to be a major role for SIOs, Goodman and Martel wrote, quoting one administrator who observed, “the biggest challenge is to keep internationalization a priority on campus, in light of all the other competing priorities and the financial challenges facing our and other universities.”
So what’s it like to be a SIO today? I turned to Ahmad Ezzeddine, who became Wayne State University’s first senior international officer in 2007. A decade and a half in the role has helped him become more nimble in responding to the job’s many challenges. But those challenges keep coming, including the pandemic, a sometimes-hostile political environment, and global crises such as the war in Ukraine and earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. “You have to be able to lead through uncertainty,” Ezzeddine said. “I call it managing the gray.”
Still, Ezzeddine — who, along with Thomas Buntru of the University of Monterrey, in Mexico, was recently named senior international officer of the year by the Institute of International Education — is quick to say he loves the work. “Every time I land in another country, I get goose bumps,” he said.
I talked recently with Ezzeddine. Here are excerpts from the interview, edited for length and clarity.
How do you make the case for the work that universities do globally?
I do it from the ground up and from the top down. I think you need to constantly make the case with the senior administration. You bring opportunities to them. You make the case for the importance and the value: It comes with students, it comes with money, you could have more research opportunities. Partnerships can open doors for those types of things that they’re interested in pursuing.
Then from the ground up, it’s providing incentives and making the work of the faculty easier. A lot of what we do is exposing them to these opportunities, making the connections, giving them a chance to travel and see for themselves what the potential is. That’s what builds the momentum.
Has the work of a SIO become more or less challenging?
A lot of aspects are still exciting, but it is more challenging. We’re leaned on to answer when you have these crises. This is when experience comes into play. There are a lot of gut decisions. You’re making a judgment at the end of the day, sometimes without a lot of information.
When the pandemic started, I was the first one on campus to start raising the flag. We were about to send students on our faculty-led study-abroad programs for spring break. I had to go to the cabinet and the president and say, “I’m canceling all these programs, and it’s going cost us a lot of money, but I don’t think we should send the students.” Some faculty and students were not happy with me, but it turned out to be the right call. We’re at the forefront of crises, especially if they’re starting outside of the U.S.
Obviously, responding to Covid was difficult. But are there other things that have become more challenging for SIOs in 2023?
There’s this big push and tension now that there’s emphasis back on enrollment and finances. How do you maintain support for international activities and maintain the balance between mobility and the internationalization of the curriculum? The focus on enrollment is challenging because that’s impacted dramatically by the geopolitical landscape — not to count visa issues and the bursting of the Chinese bubble. It’s this chase, and that’s putting a lot of pressure on SIOs.
And then there are the challenges that we have in higher ed in general, the whole conversation about the value of degrees. Where does international education fit into that conversation? Especially when we talk about competencies, international competencies are important for us to be competitive. So how do you build that into a conversation that focuses on work-force development?
We were talking about the benefits of experience, but my completely unscientific sense is that we are seeing a lot of long-tenured SIOs stepping down and retiring. What could turnover mean for international education?
It’s both good and bad. It’s bad in the sense that you’re losing a lot of institutional knowledge and expertise. But of course, there’s value in bringing in new blood and new ideas and people who are more familiar with what the new generations are facing. The question, though, is why are some of these folks retiring? It’s been a tough three or four years, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up. I think that it would be worth exploring how many of those retiring would have done so if things were less intense.
Are there ways you keep finding excitement in what you do?
The work is so important, especially considering the craziness that we’re seeing around the world. This is why we need people who understand the world much better and the problems that the world is facing. The more people are aware of these challenges, I think the more we can make it a better world. The chance to have more of our students be exposed to that and more of our faculty engage in that — that’s what keeps me going.
Groups warn federal guidance could “disrupt” global education
International-education groups are calling on the U.S. Department of Education to revise or rescind regulatory guidance that could restrict, or even prevent, colleges from working with international-student recruiters, study-abroad providers, and other partners overseas.
Public comments on the guidance, which is meant to increase government oversight of colleges’ relationships with third-party vendors, were due to the Education Department last week. In strongly worded letters, among some 875 comments submitted, the groups warned of the potential harms of the department’s proposal. It could “cause a sharp downturn in international-student enrollments, which will adversely impact our U.S. economy and threaten the stature of the United States as the top destination for students,” wrote the American International Recruitment Council, a membership and standards-setting organization for international-recruitment agencies and the American colleges that use them.
The group’s members are concerned that a potential ban on incentive payments to third parties who assist in recruiting and enrolling students could extend to international-recruitment agencies. International recruitment has long been exempt from restrictions on paying per-student commissions that exist within the United States, and two-thirds of colleges now report using agents.
In its letter, the Forum on Education Abroad said that the guidance, which is supposed to go into effect on September 1, could end study abroad as we know it. That’s because of language that states colleges may not work with providers on programs eligible for Title IV federal student aid if those providers are located outside the United States, or if their owner or operator is not an American citizen or permanent resident. Many education-abroad or academic-exchange programs could be affected, noted the Forum, an association of American and overseas colleges and independent study-abroad programs, and students on financial aid could lose access to international opportunities.
“It is imperative that the department act urgently to exclude education abroad from this guidance,” the group urged.
In addition to study abroad and recruitment, a range of colleges’ international activities could be “disrupted,” wrote NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Among them are degree-seeking partnerships and transfer-articulation agreements with foreign universities, overseas internships offered through placement agencies, and technology platforms that support for-credit programming by providers outside the United States.
Rather than roll out the regulatory guidance, NAFSA said the department should use the rule-making process to better define the types of outside providers that need greater oversight and to assess the impact of any changes.
The American Council on Education, in a letter signed by dozens of higher-education organizations, singled out the guidance’s potential impact on international education, among its other effects. The proposal, the letter said, would place colleges in the “unenviable situation of being forced to terminate international partnerships and valuable study-abroad programs or be at risk of losing Title IV funds.”
Common App data show diversity among applicants
Prospective students from China are far more likely to apply early decision than are other students from overseas, while applicants from Nepal were disproportionately male and the first in their families to go college.
The Common App mined its own data for a new research brief on the demographics, and the diversity, of international students who use the undergraduate-application process shared by more than 800 American colleges. The total number of international applicants to the Common App has climbed 63 percent since 2014-15, and half of that increase has come during the last three admissions cycles.
Preston Magouirk, a senior manager of research and analytics and one of the brief’s authors, said its goal was to foster a “more complete understanding” of students from around the globe interested in studying in the United States. “It’s a large and very diverse group of students, yet they’re often talked about with a single word, ‘international,’” Magouirk said.
As I paged through the data, some interesting statistics from the 2021-22 application season jumped out. Here are a few:
- When it comes to gender, Canada and Nigeria looked very much like the overall Common App applicant pool, which is 55 percent female. Fewer than four in 10 applicants from Nepal and Pakistan were female, the lowest among the foreign countries with the most applicants.
- Applicants from Nepal were four times more likely to identify as first-generation students than those from India, Singapore, South Korea, and Turkey. Fewer than 10 percent of applicants from the latter countries were first generation.
- Students from Nepal and Pakistan applied to the most colleges, and those from Canada and Singapore to the least. Nearly all Singaporean applicants sent applications to at least one highly selective college, with admission rates at or below 25 percent. Fewer than half of the students from Nigeria or Nepal applied to one of those institutions.
- Two-thirds of Chinese students applied early decision. Among all students using the Common App, just 13 percent did so.
Around the globe
A proposal to increase certain immigration-related fees — including those paid by international students to file documents in order to take part in Optional Practical Training, a popular postgraduation work program — could deter foreign students and scholars from coming to the United States, higher-education groups wrote in a comment letter.
A federal judge ruled in favor of graduate students who said their applications to a prestigious international-research fellowship had been penalized because they were native or heritage speakers of the foreign language in which they planned to do fieldwork. The U.S. Department of Education has said it will change the rule for the Fulbright-Hays award.
A Russian intelligence operative posed as a graduate student in international studies at the Johns Hopkins University in order to build connections in American foreign policy and national security, an indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice alleges.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists cited a recent article in Latitudes in a letter to President Biden raising concerns about reports that Chinese American scientists are being stopped and questioned when re-entering the United States. The scientist group called for border officials to receive anti-bias training.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate would give priority for H-1B skilled-work visas to applicants with advanced degrees, particularly in high-demand science and technology fields. Sen. Charles E. Grassley and Sen. Richard J. Durbin have been proposing the changes since 2007.
The Institute of International Education is starting a Center for Access and Equity to increase global-education opportunities for all students.
The University of Memphis student government passed a resolution calling on the university and its foundation to divest from any companies with ties to the Chinese government’s human-rights abuses of Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group, or to the Chinese military.
More than 70 countries, including the United States, signed a joint statement in support of academic freedom that was presented to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.
International investigators said the Mexican military is obstructing their inquiry into the 2014 disappearance of 43 college students by withholding information and even denying the existence of key documents.
Two students who organized screenings of a documentary critical of Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, will be barred by Delhi University from taking exams for one year.
Australian higher-education groups are calling for the end of a temporary pandemic visa that let students easily transfer from a student visa to one for work.
And finally …
This week’s newsletter is chock full of news, but expect the next couple of issues to be thinner. No, I haven’t gone into some sort of psychic sideline — I’m taking a vacation, and to the appropriately on-brand destination of Florence, Italy. If you have suggestions of must-see spots or must-do activities in and around the study-abroad mecca, feel free to drop me a note, at email@example.com. Bonus points if they’re suitable for the 10-and-under set.
On holiday or not, I always welcome your comments and feedback. In addition to email, you can connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. If you like this newsletter, please share it with colleagues and friends. They can sign up here. Thanks for reading.