US varsities worry about loss of China talent: expert
There have been twists and turns in China-US educational exchanges from last year, partly due to the trade standoff and US allegations about Chinese academics' and students' "suspicious activities." What are the prospects of China-US educational ties? Will a new cold war spread to campuses? David Moser (Moser), associate dean of Yenching Academy of Peking University, shared his insights on these issues with Global Times (GT) reporter Yan Yunming.
GT: Earlier in June, amid tensions in China-US economic relations and increased scrutiny of educational exchanges, China's Ministry of Education (MOE) issued a warning about risks of studying in the US. How do you look at the warning?
Moser: The warnings by the MOE were quite reasonable, since crime and gun violence are certainly a serious problem in the US. The issue is the timing of the warnings. The US has had crime and public security problems for many years; why would the MOE issue a warning now? US-China relations are very strained at the moment, with both sides leveling accusations and criticisms at each other. The MOE warning was clearly a retaliatory "tit-for-tat" move, intended to ratchet up tensions and show that China is not going to passively accept America's criticism without fighting back.
GT: Many believe that the bilateral educational and academic exchanges have been affected by China-US trade disputes. Is it the case?
Moser: The negative effects are just beginning to be felt, and I think they are likely to get worse. There has been a tightening and increased scrutiny of visa applications by Chinese students, and several academic exchanges risk being canceled due to the trade tensions. Successful academic exchanges rely on mutual trust, and increasingly that trust has been damaged.
GT: You were quite positive about China-US educational partnership last December. But things have been quite different in the past six months. Are you still optimistic? What's the prospect of China-US educational ties?
Moser: I am certainly less optimistic now than I was in December, because the trade tensions have worsened more quickly than we could have imagined. In the past decades, we felt confident about the future of academic cooperation, because everyone agreed that it was a "win-win" proposition. Therefore we all felt that academic exchange between the two countries was in a "safe zone," largely protected and immune to political tensions. Now I think it is clear that educational exchange programs no longer enjoy this immunity, and they too will suffer from the consequences of the trade war. There is a saying: "When two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled." In a sense, those of us in the field of international education are just part of the "grass," and we will surely feel the effects.
GT: Some prestigious US universities such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford have voiced their support for international students and scholars, including those from China. What's your view?
Moser: There are more than 360,000 Chinese students studying at American universities, and they are now an important and integral part of US higher education. They elevate the academic level of the school, and many go on to make great contributions to the American economy.
Therefore virtually all American universities - and not just the elite schools such as Harvard and Yale - welcome the Chinese students with open arms. They are a great human resource for higher education, and no university wants to see their numbers decline.
GT: Without Chinese students seeking admission, will the US universities face funding issues?
Moser: All the major universities are worried about a possible steep decline in Chinese student applications. Taking my alma mater University of Michigan as an example, when I was attending university in the 1980s, students from the People's Republic of China were only a small percentage of the student population. Today Chinese make up the largest single category of foreign students at the university, amounting to more than a third of foreign enrolment. Since many of these students are paying full tuition, a sudden decline in Chinese applications would thus result in a loss of overall funding from tuition.
However, given that universities routinely reject many more applicants than they accept, the loss of Chinese students would not entail a permanent loss of funding from tuition, since students from other countries would take the slots previously given to Chinese students. So although loss of funding is an issue, top universities actually worry more about the loss of academic talent, diversity, and global competitiveness that the Chinese student population brings. In the end, the real problem universities worry about is the loss of talent, not the loss of funding.
What most people don't realize is that an exodus of Chinese students would not only impact the universities, it would also be a detriment to the US economy. Statistics show Chinese students contribute nearly $13 billion annually to the American economy. The loss of students would have widespread negative consequences for American society.
GT: Will a new "cold war" spread to campuses, and why?
Moser: A cold war between the US and China would be in no one's best interest. A cold war mentality in Congress means cutbacks in funding for US-China educational exchanges. It entails further visa restrictions, and a resurgence of old "red scare" attitudes. And since there are now so many cross-cultural marriages, friendships and ongoing relationships, a cold war would bring terrible disruptions in the personal lives of millions of people.
So yes, a cold war would have a negative effect on US campuses. The suspicion and distrust that a cold war brings would certainly negatively impact the lives of the Chinese students who go to America to study. There are already subtle signs of some racial animosity toward Chinese and Asians in general in US society, and this would inevitably spill over into college campuses. While there is a spirit of goodwill among scholars in academia, all of whom share the values of learning, exchange of information, and mutual cooperation, this feeling can be endangered in an environment of increased nationalism, xenophobia and fear.