Expect more scrutiny edition

After all, the Education Department pledged to look into colleges’ foreign funds

An Investigation Expands

At least two more universities, Cornell and Rutgers, are under investigation for allegedly failing to report foreign gifts or contracts, bringing the total of those being scrutinized by federal authorities to four. The others that have been publicly disclosed are Georgetown and Texas A&M.

In particular, the Department of Education is looking at money coming from China and Qatar, the Associated Press reports. Three of four institutions named have branch campuses in the Gulf kingdom.

The inquiry may be news, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, Education officials promised to do just that, while testifying on Capitol Hill four months ago.

The February hearing of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was specifically focused on Confucius Institutes, but its implications go beyond the Chinese-funded language and cultural centers. (I’ve got a breakdown of the hearing here.)

The subcommittee chairman, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, was critical of the Department of Education’s oversight – or lack thereof – of foreign funds going to American colleges. When Senate staff compiled a report on Confucius Institutes, he noted, they found that 70 percent of institutions with language centers didn’t properly report their contracts. “We haven’t even enforced our own laws,” he said. 

Mitchell M. Zais, a deputy secretary of education, suggested that most reporting failures were accidental lapses that could be fixed with a nudging phone call, but Portman wasn’t having any of it. The Education Department, he reminded Zais, has the option to request that the U.S. attorney general undertake civil action against universities that violate regulations on foreign funds. He asked Zais to pledge to step up oversight. He did.

When the department sent a letter to the American Council on Education explaining that the investigation was spurred by “security, academic freedom, and other concerns,” it was signed by Zais.

For its part, the higher-ed association says government officials have failed to give colleges clear guidance about what needs to be reported and have "steadfastly declined to answer specific, direct questions." What’s more, ACE notes in its own letter, the department has never actually issued regulations for the reporting of overseas gifts and contracts but has only released "Dear Colleague" letters as guidance. The most recent “Dear Colleague” is 15 years old – and it does not mention national security as a rationale for transparency of overseas funding. 

The Education Department, ACE suggests, is "expanding the scope of the requirement without any opportunity for public comment." A half-dozen other higher-ed groups signed onto this letter.

So what does this all mean? In a time of greater public attention on foreign influence on American campuses, my bet is that it won’t just be four colleges that get – or perhaps have already gotten – requests for years’ worth of records on overseas gifts and contracts. We might even see an institution or two referred to the Justice Department for further action. The marching orders, after all, are right there in the hearing transcript.

Did someone forward you this email? You can sign up and get all the week’s global education news and analysis in your inbox every Monday morning.

Agent Debate, Round ??

Last week, I wrote about some interesting findings on international recruitment agents from a National Association for College Admission Counseling membership survey. In a nutshell, it showed that the share of colleges using agents was pretty much flat, but that a significant number of institutions were considering adopting the practice. Whaddya make of this? I asked. And many of you responded. Here are a few:

Charlie Schwartz, associate director of international admissions at the University of Cincinnati, wrote that the collaborative nature of decisionmaking on campuses can make it difficult to pursue new or unfamiliar approaches. If a more senior administrator “champions that change, it can move quickly. But a smaller office that doesn’t hold much clout across campus may have a hard time gaining the political traction needed to implement. This could be especially true of agents, given their (perceived) polarizing nature across academia.”

Mary Hunter, director of American language and culture programs at California State University at Stanislaus, suggested the NACAC survey might underestimate the actual use of agents because of the decentralized nature of admissions, especially on large campuses. “At some U.S. institutions of higher ed, international undergraduate admissions and recruitment is handled by the international office and at others it’s handled in admissions/enrollment services. And my experience in institutions where domestic and international recruitment are handled separately, the two are often not at all connected and rather ignorant of each other’s practices. Graduate admissions is a whole different mixed bag.” My experience echoes Mary’s – I can recall interviewing an admissions dean who insisted to me that his college never, ever used agents when I knew for a fact that the intensive English program there did.

Finally, I got a note from Eddie West, assistant dean and executive director of international programs at University of California at Berkeley Extension. West, who used to run international initiatives at NACAC, made the point that a key difference between the U.S. and Australia, where agents are common, is that the Australian government regulates agent usage. A snippet from Eddie’s email: “The best practice guidance issued by NACAC, NAFSA, and AIRC, and the conversations they facilitate, has undoubtedly professionalized how schools work with agents. That being said, voluntary regulations are no substitute for legally mandated ones, and yet there’s no chance of the U.S. government doing anything about this legislatively anytime soon. So I see the growing use of agents by U.S. schools as bad news for international students, since the flawed per-capita commissions model ensures that their interests are squarely in third place, behind those of agents and schools.”

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. My goal is for latitude(s) to be a communal space for international education, a place to share thoughts, opinions, and best practices. If you’ve got a perspective on anything you read here, tell me about it. You can find me on Twitter @karinfischer or by email at latitudesnews@gmail.com.

Around the Globe

A lecturer at an Afghan university partially funded by the U.S. government has been arrested on suspicion of recruiting students to join the Islamic State.

An Australian student expelled by North Korea denied allegations that he is a spy:

The University of Hong Kong’s vice chancellor has promised to shield student protestors from unlawful arrest. But could the Chinese government tighten control of Hong Kong universities?

Chinese applications to British universities are up 30 percent. The UK’s gain may come at the expense of American colleges.

One of two candidates to become Britain’s next prime minister has a background in international education: Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary, started Hotcourses, an international-student search firm.

Hungary’s parliament has approved legislation giving the government control of the country’s scientific research institutes.

Two NGOs are accusing Israel of imposing visa restrictions on international academics at universities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

American universities are expanding their presence in Africa.

An Indonesian research institute has ranked the country’s universities based on their levels of religious fundamentalism.

Recent Chinese graduates are struggling to find work. With the slowest economic growth in a decade and the possibility of a prolonged trade war with the U.S., the number of job openings for new grads fell 13 percent, according to an online recruiter.

And finally...

Many of Mumbai’s 18 million residents lived in cramped chawls, with entire families crowded into tiny apartments. So when high-school and college students want to study, they take to the streets – to so-called study corners, small communal spaces carved out of sidewalks or adjacent to public parks where the focus is on academics. Most of these makeshift study halls are bare bones, with a few uncomfortable chairs or benches. But rules are enforced – no loud talking, cell phones on silent – and neighbors or local politicians sometimes contribute to their upkeep. One study corner is said to date back nearly 90 years. 

This Atlas Obscura piece is delightful, with one exception – study corners are something of a boys’ club. That’s because for safety reasons, female students can’t stay out late at night, even to study.

’Til next week – Karin

For the best international education news and analysis, please subscribe to latitude(s). In this startup phase, I’ll be making the newsletter free; in the future, I’ll ask for a small fee to support quality journalism.