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International higher education community responds to U.S. barriers on free movement

Since the enforcement of travel bans and suspended admission of refugees, following President Trump’s executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’’, the higher education community has not only been on alert, but spoken out on the collective interest to uphold the free movement of ideas and people.

ACA members the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Institute of International Education (IIE) have been vocal on ongoing encroachments to international exchange. The IIE ‘green paper, released this February, shares information on the measures that have been put in place by U.S campuses to support the needs and concerns of current and prospective students from the MENA region and beyond.  The paper makes a unique contribution by directly addressing affected students and inspiring the higher education community to formulate solutions, by outlining actions taken by staff, students and institutions to build new ways in which their campuses can adapt advisory services and support structures. The Alliance of Science Organisations that unites the most important research organisations in Germany including DAAD, came out with a joint statement that firmly deems ‘Science is International’’.  The forthright statement calls the unjustified tool of an immigration ban “a sweeping discrimination of human beings based on their ethnicity and consequently also an act of aggression against the fundamental values of science”.

Nearly 50 U.S. based higher education associations have joined forces in a letter, issued by the American Council on Education, addressed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, opposing the travel ban. It emphasizes the collective value of insuring the U.S. remain a destination of choice for the world’s brightest minds and accounts the societal and economic value that roughly one million international students, with an financial impact of USD 32.8 billion (EUR 30.9 billion), contribute to the country. The letter sets a reminder for the internally and externally enriching role of being ‘’ambassadors of American values, democracy and the free market’’ that international scholars and students have held throughout history.

On the European side, an array of actors have also had their say. The European University Association (EUA) issued a statement calling Trump to rethink or recall the controversial order that ‘’immediately and unnecessarily affected the movement of international researchers, university faculty and students from seven Muslim-majority countries’’. The statement is supported by almost 20 organisations across the EU, including universities, rectors’ conferences and university associations, and emphasises the damaging and disruptive effects of the ban on a knowledge-based economy as the U.S. and on knowledge societies as Europe, who are powered by the free flow of global talent.  European science organisations have come forward in an Open Letter, issued by EuroScience, addressing European Prime Ministers, ministers, the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission, as well as Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research and Innovation. The letter calls on European governments and leaders to preserve a global science system underpinned by scientific principles. Nearly 50 signatories involved in science, including the social sciences and humanities, research, education and innovation, deem limitations for scientists to publish freely, communicate with press and policy makers, and the spread of views lacking scientific credibility in areas as climate change, at odds with scientific progress.

While the international higher education community generally acknowledges security concerns as justified, the collective position is clearly that ‘ends do not justify the means’, and that progress continues to hinge on interdisciplinary and cross-cultural cooperation between people and nations.