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US international student deportation and coronavirus

Jul 21,2020 - Last updated at Jul 21,2020

According to the Institute of International Education, the number of Middle Eastern students pursuing studies at US universities has declined by a little more than 9 per cent. While the political ambience may have a negative effect on the students, declining oil prices is another factor that plays a chief role in the reduction of higher education budgets. In addition, current attempts to crack down on international students because of the coronavirus pandemic and the anti-Muslim partiality under the current US administration will oblige students decline even further.

The bad news is that international students pursuing their grad and undergrad studies at US universities, including Muslim and Arab, we are told, will have to leave their schools and programmes of study or accept the risk of deportation should their universities fully adopt online courses next fall.

Such an action, should it take place, shall negatively affect all international students who have come to the United States in high hopes of joining renowned universities or participating in joint research programmes and vocational studies or teaching based on their academic repute in their fields of human knowledge.

US universities are, the sad reality is, planning to go online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Renowned academic institutions such as Harvard, for instance, have already decided that course instruction will be online; including students living on campus, a decision that leaves the door wide open to forcing foreign students leave the country finally!

As a US-trained scholar and as a father, I am saddened by the feeling that these “kids” will not be able to be enrolled in schools and programmes that go fully online, to see them get deported leaving their studies and research labs on campus behind, because many simply  cannot!

My question is: What happened to in-person classes if President Donald Trump assure us that “virtual learning has proven to be terrible”, compared to in-person, and that 90 per cent of the coronavirus cases are “harmless?” If so, why politicise education through hard times!

In my view, distancing students from on-campus education will not be a wise solution! For the place of the university in a rapidly changing and globalising world plays a major role in any of the controversial issues such as this. For the university's place as a dominant player in a global system is increasingly driven by collective knowledge, collaborative work and joint research. 

More than any other resource, to be sure, mutual knowledge has become the main driver of economic growth, and reciprocal education has progressively become the basis for individual success and social progress worldwide. 

Universities' international initiatives and branding are framed as a key requirement for the success of nations and their economies through the international partnerships they create, the bridges they build, and the common intellectual setup they expand in dealing with the challenges that cross borders; through removing common ignorance and promoting cultural and political tolerance and enriching educated, intellectual dialogues among students and people face to face. At the end of the day, nations live in a cultural web that influences the way they relate to each other.  However, as cultures bind people together, they can also set them apart. 

When something violates such commonly accepted academic norms, it may be called unnatural and uncommon, because they are entwined with common unblemished beliefs to such a degree that questioning them entails a major reconsideration of the way the world is seen by and the way it sees others. 

Education is, in the end, intended to not only teach and instruct, but to educate as it removes those barriers or hurdles of misunderstanding and the intellectual ignorance that come with them and sometimes render human relations so difficult.

In short, higher education institutions do need to amend their plans every now and then, but have to consider the challenges of other educational and political hurdles as well.

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