Get a rundown of the top stories in international ed and Karin Fischer’s expert analysis. Delivered on Wednesdays. To read this newsletter as soon as it sends, sign up to receive it in your email inbox.
From: Karin Fischer
Subject: Latitudes: Among Chinese students at U.S. colleges, political pressures and discrimination grow more acute
A shifting portrait
Students from China studying in the United States in recent years were more likely to experience political pressure and discrimation than earlier generations, according to a survey of Chinese graduates that spans the past three decades.
We're sorry. Something went wrong.
We are unable to fully display the content of this page.
The most likely cause of this is a content blocker on your computer or network.
If you continue to experience issues, please contact us at 202-466-1032 or email@example.com
A shifting portrait
Students from China studying in the United States in recent years were more likely to experience political pressure and discrimination than earlier generations, according to a survey of Chinese graduates that spans the past three decades.
The first-of-its-kind survey polled people from mainland China who earned undergraduate or graduate degrees from American colleges between 1991, when Chinese students began going abroad in significant numbers, and 2021, when China had become the top source of globally mobile students, accounting for one in three international students on U.S. campuses. It was conducted by the U.S.-China Education Trust, which promotes educational exchange between the two countries, and the China Data Lab of the University of California at San Diego’s 21st Century China Center, a research institute.
Among students in the most recent cohort, or those who graduated after 2016, more than half said they had experienced discrimination while in the United States. By contrast, only about a third of those who graduated between 2004 and 2015 reported discriminatory incidents. Among the earliest cohort, just 15 percent had such experiences.
The uptick in negative encounters in recent years is of little surprise: Tensions between China and the United States intensified during this period, and Chinese students increasingly found themselves caught in the middle. President Donald J. Trump reportedly called Chinese students spies and considered barring them from studying in the United States. A 2021 Pew Research Center poll found that 55 percent of Americans favored some restrictions on Chinese students. And the last of the students surveyed graduated during the Covid-19 pandemic, when anti-Asian racism spiked.
The most recent group of graduates were also more likely to report feeling pressure to express certain political views — from American sources and their fellow Chinese nationals. About a third of such graduates said they had felt political pressure from one side or the other.
Rising political pressures
One respondent reported feeling “compelled to defend [the] Chinese government’s official political stance because [they were] from China.” Another said that they received negative feedback from other Chinese students on campus for expressing what were perceived to be “anti-China“ sentiments.
For those who graduated before 2004, politics were much less of an issue: Just 13 percent said they had experienced political pressure from Chinese sources and less than 10 percent from Americans.
Across all graduates, about four in 10 reported feeling “distant” from American society.
Still, the vast majority of students said their experience in the United States was a positive one. Eighty-five percent said Americans were friendly and welcoming, with nearly half saying they strongly agreed with that view.
Asked if they would do it again, eight in 10 graduates said they would study in the United States. A similar share said they would encourage their children to go to an American college, a response that was consistent whether they had stayed in the United States after graduation or returned to China.
The location of respondents, however, is one limitation of the survey, which was distributed through colleges and alumni groups, international-education associations, Chinese professional societies, and organizations with ties to China. About three-quarters of those who participated currently live in the United States, a proportion that does not reflect the many graduates who return to their home country.
A report on the survey notes that “political sensitivities” can complicate polling in China, where people may be hesitant to respond even to anonymous surveys. That dynamic could have discouraged participation by recent alumni in particular, the report notes, as they have been most affected by political tensions.
Despite this limitation, the report paints a shifting portrait of Chinese students in America over the years. Perhaps the single-biggest change is in who pays: Among the initial wave of students, fewer than 10 percent received financial support from their parents. That’s most likely explained by the fact that most of the earliest students were graduate students who received scholarships and stipends from American colleges.
Over the years — as China’s middle class has grown and as undergraduate enrollments have outpaced those at the graduate level — parents have paid more of the tuition bill. About 40 percent of students who graduated between 2004 and 2015 said they had gotten financial assistance from their families. Among recent graduates, more than three-quarters reported such support.
Other trends are less clear cut. Recent students were more likely to say that they spent much of their time studying, crowding out their social life. Yet, participation in a number of extracurricular activities — such as volunteering, taking part in dance or theatre, or writing for the campus newspaper — has increased over time.
Recent graduates were also more likely than their predecessors to have had a non-Chinese roommate, which can be key to integration on campus. Yet that finding may also reflect the larger share of undergraduates among younger alumni. Incoming freshmen are more likely to be assigned roommates than graduate students who can pick their housing.
One finding was consistent over the years: Educational quality drives Chinese students to seek an American degree. Nearly all respondents said a desire to get the “best possible education” was important or somewhat important in their decision to study abroad.
Experiencing life outside China and having more freedom to choose their area of study and their career were also important factors.
Foreign influence on campus a “persistent and increasing” problem
Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. secretary of homeland security, is urging a new federal academic-advisory council to focus on the “challenges” of foreign influence and intellectual-property theft on American college campuses.
Speaking at the inaugural meeting last week of the newly reconstituted Homeland Security Academic Partnership Council, Mayorkas outlined two areas he hoped the group of school and college officials could tackle: One, at the elementary- and secondary-school level, is child sexual exploitation and abuse; the other is efforts at “malign” influence by foreign governments and other overseas actors, which he called a “persistent and increasing” problem for higher education.
Mayorkas said he hoped the advisory group could use its expertise to make recommendations to help his agency “more effectively combat” threats to research security, which he said had “homeland-security and national-security impact.”
But some members of the council, which has a broad charge of advising the department on areas where homeland security and education intersect, may have other priorities. Cynthia D. Shapira, chairwoman of the Board of Governors for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, noted that most college students attend nonselective, non-research-intensive institutions where foreign influence isn’t a relevant issue. She said she hoped that the panel could focus on “crushing, everyday problems,” such as the physical security of schools and colleges.
Another panel member, Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities, said the elite research institutions that belong to her organization have “ramped up” their efforts to combat research security. And Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said U.S. government policy must remain “open and welcoming” to international students and scholars while “directly and intentionally” pushing back against foreign interference on campuses.
Rebecca K. Sternhell, principal deputy assistant secretary for partnerships and engagement, said that in asking the council to focus on foreign influence, the department hoped it could examine the impact of the political pressures by foreign governments on international students studying in the United States as well as research security.
Efforts by federal officials to enlist the higher-education sector in developing ways to counteract potential foreign interference stands in contrast to the Trump administration, which frequently criticized college leaders for failing to be vigilant against efforts by China and other foreign governments to poach American intellectual know-how.
This is the second iteration of the homeland-security academic group. Initially formed under President Barack Obama, it was disbanded as part of an executive order by President Trump cutting the number of federal-advisory panels.
International mobility stable despite pandemic
Global-student mobility was “surprisingly” stable despite the pandemic, according to a new international report on education.
The annual Education at a Glance report, released Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that the total share of international students across its member countries held steady between 2019 and 2021, at 6.4 percent of all enrollments in higher education. The finding was unexpected, the report’s authors noted, because of border closures and travel restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus.
Indeed, countries with the tightest limits on international travelers saw substantial enrollment drops. The share of international students in Australia fell from 28.4 percent in 2019 to 21.9 percent in 2021. In New Zealand, foreign enrollments declined from 20.8 percent to 12 percent over the same period. Both countries were also disproportionately affected by timing — their academic year was just beginning as the Covid crisis exploded in early 2020, meaning that many international students never arrived on campus.
In the United States, where most international students remained in the country during the initial months of the pandemic, the enrollment decreases were more modest, from 5.2 percent in 2019 to 4.6 percent in 2021.
You can dig into the latest comparative data, including international trends in degree attainment and per-student spending, in the report.
Around the globe
The U.S. government is extending emergency relief for international students affected by the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, allowing them to work more hours and to carry a reduced course load than is typically allowed under student-visa regulations.
The Biden administration will speed up the processing of applications for asylum by displaced Afghans, promising to adjudicate at least half of pending requests by October as part of a legal agreement. Many students who found refuge on American campuses are still waiting for their cases to be decided.
In a joint statement, President Biden and Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, hailed the establishment of an India-U.S. Global Challenges Institute, a partnership that will bring universities and research institutes from the two countries together to work in artificial intelligence, sustainable energy and agriculture, health and pandemic preparedness, and other areas of science and technology.
SIT Study Abroad, which runs study-abroad programs around the globe, reported that its 42 students, as well as academic personnel, in Morocco were all safe after a devastating earthquake struck the country. A spokesman for Semester at Sea told Latitudes that its vessel had diverted from its first port, Casablanca, to Málaga, Spain, because of the humanitarian crisis.
The UK government and the European Commission have come to an agreement that will allow British researchers to again participate in Horizon, the European Union’s flagship research program, for the first time since Brexit.
A new government official appointed to champion free speech on British campuses said he will be apolitical and impartial in his role.
Israeli academics working at universities around the world have signed a petition warning that a government plan to overhaul the judiciary could hurt the country’s higher-education and research systems by making it more difficult to attract scholars or engage in international-academic collaboration.
Members of China’s top scientific academy must ensure that their public statements are “in line with the general policy of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China,” under a new code of conduct.
While partnerships between individual Chinese and American researchers can be “productive,” the United States should end its longstanding scientific cooperation pact with China, a former chief of staff to the National Security Council wrote.
Academic dishonesty is the primary reason Chinese students are asked to leave American colleges, according to an analysis by WholeRen, an international-education consultancy.
And finally …
Monday marked 22 years since the September 11 attacks. And this Saturday brings another somber anniversary — a year ago, a young Iranian student, Mahsa Amini, died after being detained by security officials for allegedly not properly covering her hair according to religious law. Amini’s death sparked a wave of protests, one of the biggest challenges to the Iranian government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. College students often led those demonstrations. On American campuses, academics, including members of the Iranian diaspora and those who study the region, urged solidarity.
Where do we stand one year later? I’d like to invite readers’ reflections. You can send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they could be published in a future issue of Latitudes.
Of course, I welcome feedback and story ideas about all aspects of international education. You can also connect with me on X or LinkedIn. If you like this newsletter, please share it with colleagues and friends. They can sign up here. Thanks for reading!