The United States has never had a coordinated national approach to international education. Now the Biden administration says it will pursue one.
In a joint statement released Monday morning, the U.S. Departments of State and Education announced a “renewed U.S. commitment to international education.” Global academic ties, through the exchange of students and collaborative teaching and research, are crucial for American security, prosperity, and innovation, the statement said.
“As U.S. federal agencies involved in different aspects of international education, we commit to undertaking actions to support a renewed focus on international education.”
The coordinated policy will include international students studying in the U.S., American students going abroad, international research collaboration, and the internationalization of American classrooms and campuses.
International-education groups have been advocating for a national strategy for international education for years, arguing that the lack of a unified approach puts the U.S. at a disadvantage, particularly when it comes to recruiting global talent. Many of America’s competitors, such as Australia and Britain, already have a national global-education policy.
Esther D. Brimmer, executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, called the joint statement a “welcome initiative that signals an exciting advancement in rebuilding and restoring U.S. engagement with the world.”
Louis Caldera, co-founder of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said he hoped that “the policies that follow this joint statement will help re-establish U.S. preeminence in international education, an extremely competitive and important sector of our economy that was severely undermined by the policies of the last administration.”
The statement outlines a number of policies and other approaches federal agencies can pursue in support of international education. It said the U.S. government will:
- Encourage more international students and scholars to come to the United States and more Americans to study and do research abroad and work to diversify participation in international education;
- Make a “strong focus” on international education part of the national recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic;
- Promote expanded access to international education, including through the use of technology where in-person experiences are not feasible;
- Put in place policies and procedures to facilitate both study and approved work experiences for international students, while protecting program integrity and national security;
- Clearly communicate policy guidance for international students and implement “fair, efficient, and transparent” student-visa processes;
- Leverage existing international education programs and resources to create new opportunities to broaden access; and
- Strengthen cooperation between the federal government, colleges, and the private sector to maintain the integrity of federally-funded intellectual property and research from undue foreign influence.
The statement, however, stops short of proposing specific programming or committing government spending.
Brimmer called on the White House to set up a coordinating commission or council to synchronize and integrate international-education policy across multiple federal agencies.
She noted that NAFSA has crafted a detailed set of policy proposals
for international education and suggested a number of steps the Biden administration could take as part of a national strategy, among them increased funding for exchange programs, including virtual study abroad; concrete enrollment targets for foreign-student recruitment; and reforms to immigration and visa policy
that would make it easier for international students to come, stay, and work in the United States.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced the plan in remarks to the EducationUSA Forum. Blinken, who studied in France as a teenager, called international education a “foreign policy imperative.”
“It’s strongly in our national interest for the U.S. to remain the top study destination for foreign students,” he said.
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