Donald Trump’s victory in presidential polls may deter or restrict international students coming to the US for higher education and threaten the estimated $35 billion it adds to the American economy, experts have warned.
After a caustic presidential campaign and Trump’s vows to limit immigration, build a Mexican border wall and force Muslims to register, experts in higher education sector are bracing for a backlash among students who see the US as a less welcoming destination.
Surveys of international students conducted during the presidential campaign suggested that many would be less interested in coming to the US if Trump were to become president.
For example, a survey of 40,000 students from 118 countries conducted by the international student recruiting companies FPP EDU Media and Instead found that 60 per cent said they’d be less inclined to come to the US if Trump were to win, compared with just 3.8 per cent who said they’d be less inclined if his opponent Hillary Clinton won.
The number of international students at US colleges and universities has hit a record high, but experts suggest that Trump’s election may slow the growth of this market and threaten the estimated $35 billion it adds annually to the American economy.
For the first time, the number of international students at US universities exceeded a million last year, according to new figures from the Institute of International Education. The total of about 1,044,000 was up 7 per cent from 2014-15. China and India remained the top two sources of international students, but Saudi Arabia—bolstered by a government-funded scholarship programme—passed South Korea to pull into third on the list.
“I think America is going to continue to welcome international students, international students are going to continue to want to come here, we will continue to want to send American students abroad as students and cultural ambassadors. I think that international educational exchange is part of the fabric of many societies, including ours,” said Allan E Goodman, the president and CEO of the Institute for International Education.
The Seattle-based marketing company Study in the USA also surveyed 1,000 prospective international students on the election. Of 975 responses, 639 said they’d be more likely to study in the US if Clinton were to win, while just 91 said they’d be more likely to come if Trump were elected. “Due to Trump’s very explicit racist remarks, I would not feel very comfortable studying in the USA,” one respondent said.
If the rise of post-Brexit anti-foreigner attacks in Great Britain is any indication, the experts say, Trump’s presidency—and its possible policy implications—could lead international students to look elsewhere for their educations. Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Canada, meanwhile, have all increased international recruiting.
A survey of international students earlier this year revealed serious concerns about a Trump presidency. The March poll of 40,000 students in 118 countries by two international student recruiting firms found 60 per cent of respondents were less likely to attend US universities if Trump were elected, compared to 3.8 per cent who felt that way about Hillary Clinton.
The election results may hinder international student recruiting, said Benjamin Waxman, CEO of Intead, which conducted the survey with FPP Edu Media. “It seems as though there could be the beginnings of a sea change here,” he said. “The results of Brexit and the US election definitely put a message out there.”
In Mexico, about 80 per cent of survey respondents said they would be less likely to attend US universities during a Trump presidency. The country sent nearly 17,000 students to the US last year. The two companies plan to complete another survey soon to see how the election is influencing college choices, Waxman said.
The US business of educating people from abroad is also facing other challenges, including the economic slump in China and a building spree in India, which is establishing 278 new universities that might keep some of its students at home who previously might have come to the US.
A drop-off in US international enrollment, which has increased 85 per cent in the past decade as universities aggressively recruit abroad, could have significant financial repercussions. International students pumped $35 billion into the country’s economy in 2015, according to the US Department of Commerce.
Much of the money from full-tuition-paying international students serves as an important subsidy for American undergraduates. Some public universities, including Arizona, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania State, Purdue and the University of Wisconsin, have even added a surcharge to the price for international students to make up for budget cuts.
Still, others offered a more optimistic message. It’s worth noting that Trump himself once posted on Twitter about the benefit of retaining international students in the US, writing in an August 2015 tweet, “When foreigners attend our great colleges and want to stay in the US, they should not be thrown out of our country.”
“One of the core values of international education is about celebrating diversity and learning from differences,” said Rahul Choudaha, the co-founder of InterEdge.org, an international student services company.
“Trump’s viewpoints are insular and not in line with the values of international education. It is likely that the future policies will start looking inward and slow down international education exchanges and student mobility. Career advancement is one of the prime motivations for international students to study in the US,” Choudaha added.
“Trump’s anti-immigrant stance may create stricter visa and immigration policies that may make it even more difficult for students to come to the US and find internship and job opportunities,” he said.