Trump tweets ‘directly cut foreign student interest in US’

‘Real-time’ data from recruiter’s website shows ‘travel ban’ tweets immediately put off Indian students, conference told

May 17, 2019
Source: Alamy
Inflated effect ‘As we know, tweets do matter. They can have large geopolitical impacts, and they can have large impacts on student mobility,’ said one commentator

Tweets by Donald Trump have led directly to a drop in international student interest in US universities, according to data from a student recruitment firm.

Online posts from the US president supporting a “travel ban” – referring to restrictions taken initially against citizens from six Muslim-majority countries in 2017 – were followed by immediate falls in the number of Indian students who said that they wanted to study in the US, according to Simon Emmett, chief executive of IDP Connect, a division of recruitment and marketing firm IDP Education.

“We can see it in real time...you can look at the impact of a tweet overnight,” he told delegates at the British Council’s Going Global conference in Berlin.

Since Mr Trump took office, US institutions have suffered two annual falls in newly enrolled international students, ending years of steady growth.

The IDP data provide direct evidence that this could be due in part to the president’s rhetoric, even though India was not targeted by the travel ban and is not majority Muslim.

Drawing on data from IDP’s website, where students enter their nationality and where they want to study, Mr Emmett showed delegates that in December 2015, the US was the most favoured destination for Indian students, with more than a 25 per cent share.

But since then, interest has steadily dropped – a decline that preceded Mr Trump’s election – with less than 15 per cent of prospective Indian students now saying that they were considering the US, fewer than for the UK, Australia or Canada.

After presidential tweets about the travel ban, “we saw the shift straight across from the US to Canada”, he said.

“As we know, tweets do matter,” said Paul Schulmann, associate director of research at international student assistance organisation World Education Services (WES), speaking later in the same conference session on recruiting students digitally. “They can have large geopolitical impacts, and they can have large impacts on student mobility,” he added.

Drawing on results from a survey of current, prospective and former international students in the US, set to be published later this year, an “astounding number” – more than one-third – were concerned about gun violence in their local community and more than a quarter were concerned about gun violence on campus, Mr Schulmann explained.

Violence in the US, particularly against Indian students, received huge media coverage in India, he said, adding that Mr Trump could be exacerbating worries by tweeting criticism of schools for being gun-free zones, alleging that this left them defenceless against shooters.

Nearly three-quarters of institutions said that they had or were planning to change their recruitment strategies as a result of changing international student interest, according to this forthcoming research. The most popular strategy – reported by nearly eight in 10 respondents – was to change how they use social media. “They’re fighting fire with fire,” Mr Schulmann said.

Last year, a WES survey found that close to half of US institutions said that they had been part of the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign, which uses online videos, social media, events and branded products to welcome international students on campus.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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