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Universities should make their own foreign policies

Universities in the United States and United Kingdom need to call upon their “marvellous capacities for having their own foreign policies” in the light of Donald Trump being elected US president and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

That was the clarion call from Dr Allan Goodman, president and chief executive officer of the US-based Institute of International Education, or IIE, to the 2017 International Higher Education Forum organised by Universities UK in London this week.

Goodman, who was talking in a session billed as 'Higher Education in Tumultuous Times' said: “We have seen this before – at least in the United States!

“Our institute was founded in 1919 and in 1920 the US basically banned immigration by passing a very restrictive Immigration Act.”

Goodman said the IIE had to act as a guarantor and vetting agency in the early 1920s to ensure that foreign students and scholars left the United States at the end of their studies or academic visit. “They had to deposit money in an envelope with their name on, which the IIE returned as they were leaving the country. There were no student or faculty visas.”

Goodman told conference delegates that the US turned inwards, with isolationism in the 1920s and neutrality and the creation of the large America First movement in the 1930s. This lasted until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941.

After the Second World War a new immigration policy was introduced, but then the country was hit again with xenophobia, McCarthyism and anti-Semitism.

“I mention this because for most of the 100-year history of the IIE that has been a norm. So, we don’t know the duration of this period of tumultuous times, but it is likely to last longer than any of us sitting in this audience would like, or even expect.

“Over the years, universities have found neat ways to mitigate some of the negative effects for science from isolationist and nationalistic tendencies.

“They have marvellous capacities to have their own foreign policies,” said Goodman.

“In the case of America, universities have academic relations with many countries with whom the US has no diplomatic relations.

“It is interesting that the 11th largest sender country of students to America last year was Iran and, of course, the major sending country to America is the People’s Republic of China.

Keeping academic doors open

“All through these periods, universities have managed to keep their academic doors open.”

When it has not been possible to visit each other, academics meet in a third location, so in the case of the US and Cuba they have met in Mexico or Venezuela, Goodman pointed out.

So whether borders and boundaries are tightened or walls built, Goodman said he expected universities to continue to have the capacity to have their own foreign policy and will find devious ways to have relationships with teachers, students and scientists all over the globe.

Finally, Goodman said, what makes universities so beautiful is their capacity to welcome exiles and thinkers in distress.

“That has been part of the DNA of universities for centuries, and we need it more than ever in today’s current crisis,” said Goodman, who repeated a call made earlier in the conference for every university in the world to rescue one professor and one refugee scholar from the Syrian conflict. “Help prevent the lost generation of young people driven from their country from being recruited by the likes of ISIS,” he urged.

Earlier in the session on 'Higher Education in Tumultuous Times', Professor Rolf Tarrach, president of the European University Association, or EUA, told his mainly British audience that Europe was celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which led to the creation of the European Union.

Despite Britain not attending the signing of the Treaty of Rome and now facing leaving the European Union, Tarrach reminded delegates that the EU’s biggest achievement was helping to preserve 70 years of peace in Europe and preventing any more wars between France and Germany. It also helped to move countries like his own – Spain – from dictatorships to democracies.

Tarrach said the EUA represented more than 800 universities from a larger Europe than just the EU, with members coming from as far as Turkey and Armenia, and he was confident that British universities will find ways to continue collaborating with European partners. “I am sure UK science will continue to do science with the European continent.”

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist who runs De la Cour Communications. He regularly blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his website.
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