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Bridgewater State University, Jordanian partners team up with the world

Dec 05,2020 - Last updated at Dec 05,2020

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bridgewater State University (BSU) in Massachusetts, USA and its most engaging Jordanian academic and media partners have demonstrated yet another level of global engagement. The Hashemite University, Tafila Technical University and Yarmouk University, along with the Arai Centre for Study of the Jordanian Press Association worked shoulder to shoulder to celebrate International Education Week from 16-20, 2020. The US Department of Education supports such global engagement.

The COVID-19 strikes against the efforts of global engagement very hard and in a way puts all international partners to a test, either to bend down and let the storm pass or to stand united to mitigate the scrutiny and restrictions imposed by Federal authority in the US. In opposition to the depressing and regressive concept of isolationism pursued by some, BSU and its partners, especially in India, Jordan, Japan, South Korea and the Republic of Georgia, chose to expand their collaborations and to strengthen their academic and educational engagement in a series of virtual seminars held throughout International Education Week.

According to the latest reports made available by Inside Higher Education report and the Institute of International Education, the total number of international students studying at US universities, whether from within the US or online from abroad, “decreased by 16 per cent this fall, while enrollments of new international students decreased by 43 per cent”.  It shows how hard international enrollments have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also illustrated that “one in five international students are studying online from outside the US Ninety per cent of responding institutions reported student deferrals, collectively reporting that nearly 40,000 international students have deferred their studies to a future term”.

Furthermore, IIE’s recent data on international enrollments for the 2019-20 academic year from its annual Open Doors survey, a survey of more than 2,900 colleges done in partnership with the US Department of State. “The pre-pandemic data show a 0.6 per cent decline in new international enrollments in 2019-2020, the fourth straight year of declines in new international enrollments, and a 1.8 per cent decrease in the total number of international students. The decline in total international student numbers is the first recorded year-over-year decline in total international student numbers since 2005-2006.

More unpleasant news was released by NAFSA. The Association of International Educators reported that the economic impact of international students similarly recorded a decline in its estimate of international students’ contributions to the US economy. NAFSA estimates that “international students contributed $38.7 billion to the US economy in 2019-20”, a 4.4 per cent decline from the year before. Esther D. Brimmer, NAFSA’s executive director and CEO, said in a statement that “For the past four years international students and scholars have had to endure travel bans, executive orders, detrimental regulatory actions and xenophobic rhetoric from the highest levels of US government. The lack of a coordinated national pandemic response made the situation even more difficult”. 

To highlight the importance of international education, Bridgewater State University President Fred W. Clark told his virtual audience “I don’t think the United States in the past four years, to be perfectly blunt and honest, had a commitment to global engagement or international education from the Federal level.”  He added that at BSU and our world partners and especially our friends in Jordan, “we don’t really need to renew our commitment” as we are always committed to international education, “but I think the United States of America certainly does”. He added that the concept of America first doesn’t open the doors to the world, it actually closed the doors. Fawwaz Al Abed Al Haq, president of the Hashemite University, Jordan praised the venue for global collaboration as a demonstration to offering “an exemplary model by bringing the East to West. We are learning from your experience”. Samah Gamar, director, office of teaching, learning & assessment, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Doha, Qatar said that this collaboration calls on us “To innovate and to use it as a catalyst” for more international education and global engagement.

Apparently, COVID-19 impacted the whole world and cast its dark shadows on education in general and on international education in particular, Dr B.K. Ravi, Bangalore University, India explained “The challenge, however, is that a lot of population doesn’t have access to the internet and electronic devices”. Globally, Georgia is still engaged and according to Dr Nana Dikhaminjia, vice rector for innovation and science popularisation, Ilia State University, they are looking for more opportunities for international education as the university currently is collaborating with institutions in Europe, Asia and the US. Meanwhile, Dr Mohamed Moubtassime, representative of Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdella University, Fez, Morocco declared that “We can collaborate through dual-degree programmes, co-supervision programmes and joint BA or MA programmes”. Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs of Bridgewater State University Dr. Karim Ismaili said “While the global pandemic has resulted in disruption across all areas of study abroad and in the support of international students and scholars, it has also offered new ways to bring the world to BSU” and vis versa.

Understanding the significance of global engagement with Jordan Press Foundation and higher institutions in Jordan and other countries, Dr Wing-Kai To, Assistant Provost for Global Engagement, left the doors open for those who are interested in doing exchange programs. “Bridgewater State University is open to the world,” he said.  “We really encourage students [and scholars] from all over the world” to BSU. In his remarks, Dr Khaled Shogran, the director of Alrai Centre for Studies, affirmed that “It’s our honour in the Jordan Press Foundation to have good cooperation with your university and we look forward to continuing our collaboration”, Jennifer Curie, the associate director of International Student and Scholar Services said “We really provide support for students and scholars from preapplication process and until graduation”.

In the final analysis and upon approaching to enter the spring 2021 semester and moving forward, the Global Programmes coordinators and affiliated faculty and all academic and media partners in Jordan and beyond are fully aware of the need to focus on local and international student’s recruitment, sustaining and advancing international collaboration, seeking financial resources through grants and donations, offering equitable platforms for all students, faculty, librarians, staff,  and professional media people, improving communication skills and cultural competency, endorsing global virtual internship, and continue thinking along the lines of creativity and innovation.

President Clark concluded the conversation about international education and global engagement with this uplifting word “It is to advance, not to retreat”.

Jabbar Al Obaidi is professor and academic director of global programmes, BSU. Laura McAlinden is professor and chairperson, Philosophy Department, BSU

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