The past two years have seen increased scrutiny of higher ed’s ties with China. Although the government’s China Initiative
was primarily focused on researchers, it may also have colored Americans’ impressions of students. Last spring, the Trump administration did put visa restrictions
on some Chinese graduate students affiliated with universities with connections to the Chinese military. While only a smalll number of students, about 1,000, had their visas revoked, the move may have reverberated more broadly.
Recent rhetoric, said Denis Simon, the former executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan University, “left the impression that all Chinese students are spies.”
In the Pew survey, nine in 10 Americans said they view China as a competitor or enemy, not as a partner.
There is a silver lining. Americans’ views of Chinese students are not monolithic. Age, education, and political affiliation are all a factor in Americans’ position on student restrictions. Nearly 70 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning voters back limits on Chinese students, while only about 40 percent of Democratic or Democratic-learning voters do. Less than half of college graduates support curbs compared to six in 10 of Americans without a degree.
The biggest disparity of all: age. Americans over age 50 overwhelmingly favor constraints on Chinese students; those between 30 and 50 were evenly split. But two-thirds of the youngest respondents, ages 18 to 29, oppose restrictions — no other single group registered such deep disagreement with the idea. And why does that matter? Because these are the Americans who have lived and studied with Chinese classmates over the past decade’s unprecedented China-student boom.
I’ll have more reporting on the new climate for Chinese students — and how that chill is coming from both sides. Look for my article in the Chronicle of Higher Education later this week.