Monday, March 6, 2017

President Trump's Immigration Rhetoric Damages International Science Student Enrollment

What the President of the United States says publicly affects the world at large.  The world is watching the words flow out of the social media account with intense speculation as to where the leader of the free world is headed in directing the United States.  With that being said, the words out of Candidate (for President) Donald Trump during his campaign are now surfacing.  And the results do not look good for either American Universities or Science Research in general.  Below are the results and thoughts.

Words Count!

In a recent article from the Journal "Science" titled "Drop in foreign applicants worries engineering schools" the problem of a 'travel ban' on foreign applicants to US universities is highlighted with double-digit percentages.  Reductions in enrollment from international students can be directly tied to the recent executive order that President Trump signed just over a month ago (in January).  The effects of which could have immediate and long-term effects:

Such declines could have a major impact on a university's bottom line, although calculating its magnitude is not straightforward. The federal government heavily subsidizes graduate education in the sciences and engineering, so most doctoral students don't have to worry about tuition bills. But universities generate considerable revenue from professional master's degree programs, a subset of all master's training. And in those programs, international students at public universities pay tuition rates that are much higher than for in-state students.

Kevin Moore, engineering dean at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in Golden, explains how things could play out on his campus. This year, CSM's international applications are down 19%, he says. And almost 9% of the 698 foreign applicants hail from the seven countries fingered in Trump's travel ban, reflecting the school's strong history of attracting students from oil-rich nations. If some form of the ban is upheld, those students won't be able to enroll. And if the proportion of applicants who wind up on campus this fall holds steady, “we could be down almost 60 students,” Moore says. “And I've been told that 30 students equals $1 million in tuition revenue.”

What struck me the most is the impact on US graduate students that the travel ban could potentially have.  In the excerpt above, the tuition collected from international students helps off-set the tuition costs for a graduate student in science.  Upon reading this, the following question should arise in your mind:

What does this mean for a US graduate Student?

A well-known fact is that either medical students or law students are burdened with substantial amounts of financial aid upon completing either degree.  Of course, the salary of either a medical doctor or a lawyer is a possible driver of the cost of tuition.  With science degrees, the situation is different.  Typically, a student pursuing a graduate degree in any science field has one of two possible funding sources.  First, the student can do full-time research in the principle advisors research group -- meaning the professor will pay the graduate student from the 'grant money' which is awarded to the research.

Or, secondly, the graduate student may teach a class (an undergraduate laboratory class).  In which case, the university does not have to hire a 'full time' instructor who has already graduated to teach the course.  The latter saves the university a tremendous amount of money.  Plus, these revenue streams are used to 'off-set' the graduate students tuition to nearly nothing.  Therefore, the possibility exists to attend graduate school in a STEM field and walk away debt free -- that is correct without a financial burden.

That is another benefit of bringing in international students.  The cost of tuition goes toward helping American students with their educational bills.  And, indirectly supports the scientific field by promoting students to pursue a professional degree in a science related field and help advance research as a career after graduation.  I have written about the benefits of having international students in US universities competing with American graduate students.  The American graduate students benefit greatly from the rich experience in learning about differences in culture, educational methodology, and general outlooks on life.

The money mentioned above is not trivial.  If 30 students equal $1 million dollars, imagine what the total money generated from the combined consortium of international students totals?

The answer is probably grounded in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Plus, the adverse impact of losing talent entering the country - even if for a brief stay - is immeasurable across all disciplines, not just science.  International students enrich our lives with their presence and experiences which they bring to the table.

Additionally, the influx of international students enhances relations within the world on a global scale.  The experiences which the international students take back to their countries are good for the United States.  In some cases, the result is greater relation building among nations.  Which translates into business on a grander scale -- trade, money market, humanitarian relief, etc.  In the paragraphs below, these issues are briefly touched upon from the perspective of the field of science as a whole across the world.

Student Enrollment Falls As International Collaboration Increases?

Against the potential loss of income generated by the universities as highlighted above, the momentum of international scientific collaboration is increasing.  Which is great.  According to an article in the journal 'Lab Manager' titled "International Science Collaboration Growing at Astonishing Rate" cross border collaborations have more than doubled in 15 years:

The number of multiple-author scientific papers with collaborators from more than one country more than doubled from 1990 to 2015, from 10 to 25 percent, one study found. And 58 more countries participated in international research in 2015 than did so in 1990.
“In the 20th century, we had national systems for conducting research. In this century, we increasingly have a global system.”

The statistics above are wonderful and should be reflective of the increasing globalized world that we live in today.  One major reason why the above is important is due to the wide array of international collaborations across disciplines.  Traditionally, fields such as physics are filled with international collaborations due to the large instruments which are shared between countries like the Large Hadron Collider.

In the article above, the author highlights the emergence of international collaborations between researchers in non-traditional fields such as math.  The observation of these trends has sparked a new field of research as highlighted in the excerpt below:

The study found that virology had the highest rate of collaboration, with the most countries involved. “They aren’t working together because they need to share expensive equipment. They’re collaborating because issues like HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and Zika are all international problems and they need to share information across borders to make progress.”
Wagner has started a new line of research that attempts to determine how much nations benefit from their scientific work with other countries. For this work, she is looking at all the scientific articles that a nation’s scientists published with international collaborators in 2013. She is looking at each article’s “impact factor”—a score that measures how much other scientists mentioned that study in their own work.
“How much recognition a study gets from other scientists is a way to measure its importance,” Wagner said.
She compared each nation’s combined impact factor for its international collaborations to how much money the same country spent on scientific research. This is a way to determine how much benefit in terms of impact each nation gets for the money it spends.
The United States has the highest overall spending and shows proportional returns. However, smaller, scientifically advanced nations are far outperforming the United States in the relationship between spending and impact. Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Finland outperform other countries in high-quality science compared to their investment. China is significantly underperforming its investment.

The excerpt above is extremely encouraging for science and science funding.  Collaboration is a pathway through which, money can be saved on research.  Additionally, having different perspectives (different cultures) participate in science research introduces new ways of thinking, new observations, new guidelines, new problems to tackle -- which is great.

In a previous blog post, I posted a letter from the 'biotechnology' sector which included a list of over 230 signatures.  The collaborative nature of international research is critical toward solving the issues (diseases, global warming, clean water) that affect the entire world.  Adopting policies based on science research is a large step toward solving the inherent threats which we face as a world.  When each nation commits toward funding research and outreach efforts, the progress that is made is huge.

Each of us has a mission to carry out in the world.  That may or may involve the daily practice of science.  What is undoubtable is the fact that each mission is impacted by an underfunded scientific research system on a national scale.  Therefore, the responsibility lies on each of us to motivate a greater proportion of our national spending toward scientific research.  Ignoring the truth will only set us back as a nation.

Lets get out there and motivate change toward breaking down barriers toward progress ahead.  Barriers such as immigration bans, removing (reducing) regulations, backing out of climate agreements.  In the end, these barriers will hurt our progress and the environment.  In closing, as yourself the following questions:

1) Do I want clean air to breath?

2) Do I want to be able to turn on the faucet and get clean water to drink?

3) Do I enjoy flipping the light-switch to receive clean energy?

If the answers are yes, then action on your part is needed to communicate with your elected politicians in their future decisions.  Not only do they care, they are writing letters on your behalf to communicate the importance of funding scientific research.  Elected officials are joined by the scientific community in speaking out for elevating science funding.  Furthermore, the same science community has expressed concerns about enforcing immigration standards which are hazardous and go against the constitution of the United States.  Join us and make a difference.

Until next time, have a great day!

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