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Dear Indian Student, Don't Let Fear Of Trump's America Derail Your Education

Go West, young (wo)man!

21/03/2017 2:36 PM IST | Updated 22/03/2017 1:57 PM IST
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Dear Prospective Student,

Traditionally, late March heralds the coming of spring. It is a period of change, transition, and growth. For Indian students applying abroad for their higher education, it also means university admission decisions. The question is on everyone's lips: are you in or are you out?

This year, too many Indian students are counting themselves out—before any admissions decisions have arrived.

India has always enjoyed a robust relationship with the system of American higher education. Per IIE Open Doors Data, in 2016 Indian citizens accounted for 165,918 undergraduate and graduate students in the United States; with China, India represented nearly half of all international students at US universities—particularly amongst the ranks of graduate schools, at which Indian students comprise a population nearly 150,000 strong. In recent years, Indian students—as part of a global movement that comprises young people from all nations—have been electing to pursue higher education in the United States in record numbers, and the great American institutions have been responding in kind: 16% of Columbia undergraduates are international, 12% of Princeton. But now this is changing.

[B]y joining in international academic discourse—in contributing to communities, in shaping the future of institutions—you have a chance to add your voice to the generation of solvers, not soldiers...

Amid recent acts of violence against Indians in the United States—against the backdrop of President Trump's effort to restrict access to H-1B Visas, on which many Indian graduate students rely to secure employment—there is considerable (and understandable) anxiety among prospective Indian students regarding the wisdom of seeking education in the United States. They are not alone in this indecision: recently, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reported that nearly 40% of colleges have seen a drop in international applicants.

This trend is profoundly alarming from a moral, philosophical, and pedagogical point of view: students of all nationalities are needed at American universities to foster the culture of global learning, inclusion, and diversity that make America's great colleges the recognised stewards of innovation and discovery through dissent. In short—and in the words of the immortal newspaper editor Horace Greeley—Go West, young (wo)man.

Many of the benefits of higher education in the United States are well-understood. Students enjoy greater access to research facilities and funding; better engagement with the liberal arts; a degree of freedom and flexibility in their elective classes and major choice selection that is unparalleled in global higher education. With respect to India, many of the world's best-funded South Asian studies programs are located in the West—quite often in America. This is fully in keeping with the best promise of the liberal arts education: to develop a critical perspective on one's self and one's environment through the careful interdisciplinary exploration of the most powerful themes of western and eastern scholarship, be it in the sciences, social sciences, or humanities.

The world is globalised, and will never be localised again. This is a moral burden. Will you shirk it or shoulder it?

But there's more to international education, especially in the current political climate. There is a communal benefit to American higher education, a process of discovery, exchange, and communication that transcends borders and nationalities. American universities are doing what they can to support and foster the influx of international students. Yale, Harvard, Brown, Stanford—among highly selective universities—have issued a legal challenge to President Trump's immigration executive order; furthermore, the president of Harvard recently co-signed a letter, along with 47 other colleges presidents and provosts, advocating for the continued presence of international students who have "enhanced American learning, added to our prosperity, and enriched our culture."

The mission that underpins American higher education also underpins America (the great educational institutions of America existed long before the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776: Harvard was founded in 1640, Yale in 1701, Penn in 1740). And it is true that the best ideals of higher education remain above politics. But there is a responsibility that comes with these ideals, and it puts the onus on the student—the individual—to courageously seek an international perspective, a liberal arts education, and an immersive cultural exchange. There is no going back from where we've been. The world is globalised, and will never be localised again. This is a moral burden. Will you shirk it or shoulder it?

[C]onsciously and courageously deciding to bring an international perspective to American higher education is the ultimate corrective to the prevailing attitude of nationalism, exclusion, and fear.

The problems of America may seem disconnected from your realities in India, but what is decided in the coming years might affect your cousin, your aunt, your friend; and by joining in international academic discourse—in contributing to communities, in connecting with individuals, in shaping the future of institutions—you have a chance to add your voice to the generation of solvers, not soldiers; to the young people who see division and polarisation as opportunities for meaningful discussion, debate, and dialogue.

We feel that consciously and courageously deciding to bring an international perspective to American higher education is the ultimate corrective to the prevailing attitude of nationalism, exclusion, and fear. We still believe in George Washington's America, James Madison's America, Barack Obama's America, a place where "you can make it if you're willing to try." And that's always worth trying for.

Farhad Anklesaria and Nicholas Henderson are co-founders of Essai, a Delhi-based educational startup focusing on broadening access to international higher education. They specialise in preparing Indian secondary school students to take the ACT, a leading test of college-readiness for admission to US universities.

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