Friday, November 26, 2021

Serving refugees through higher education

The evidence has been very clear - immigrants, and specifically refugees, can be some of the most loyal and productive citizens of their new host countries. However, opportunity is key.

A new model has been launched to improve access to higher education for refugees in the U.S.A. "Laura Wagner, project manager for the Initiative on U.S. Education Pathways for Refugee Students at the Presidents Alliance, said the initial goal of the campaign is to spread awareness of the university sponsorship model 'so that communities and current college students as well as higher ed institutions know and understand what university sponsorship is...'"

The Pathways for Refugee Students would include institutions' willingness to "agree to flexible admissions policies for refugee students that take into account their unique situations" and it would also include the need to address individual needs as well as prospective students' families situations. Family concerns are particularly important in order to address gender imbalances in educational opportunity. The focus for refugee students would start small and scale up over time. Funding will be the responsibility of host institutions but could be compiled from; government, philanthropic groups, faith-based organizations, corporations, U.N. agencies, and institutions themselves.

A lesson that will hopefully be incorporated from both positive and negative experiences of international students is that campus culture will also be critical. Faculty, staff, and students will need to learn how to respect the resilience and strength of students who come to campus as refugees in order to avoid stereotyping and stigmatization.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Diversity statements in academic applications

With the pressures of diversity and equity increasing in U.S.A. higher education, many faculty and staff positions now include requests for a diversity statement. While this requirement may seem very natural for those familiar with the struggles for inclusion that have been present for so long, diversity statements may present considerable challenge to international applicants, and perhaps others as well.

Justin McBrayer's opinion, articulated in "Diversity statements are the new faith statements," asserted that diversity statements are so common that they impose compliance. Asking applicants to issue statements could result in further concentration of liberal faculty in U.S.A. higher education, a dynamic that could exacerbate the political tensions on campus and throughout society.

It's important to consider the opposition to diversity statements, with McBrayer's being only one. A "jumping through the hoop" filing of a diversity statement will not produce an authentic commitment to improving diversity. And, if the reason for requesting diversity statements is improperly framed, more seeds of opposition will be planted.

Olga Koutseridi offers four pieces of advice that can help. They include: reflect, leverage cultural competence, create a list of stories, and seek targeted feedback. At the center of Koutseridi's advice is introspection about the strength that international candidates bring to any campus. Not being considered a "minority" in the typical sense of U.S.A. institutions does not mean that a candidate has not experienced the dynamics of discrimination.

Reflecting, searching for stories, and then presenting how one can contribute to inclusive learning should be the goal. And, by the way, readers and reviewers of these statements might pursue a bit of reflection themselves - opening up to the lived experience of international academics in ways that could expand perspective beyond the U.S.A.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Central European University's move to Vienna

After tensions with Hungary's government made the location of Central European University in Budapest increasingly intolerable, it is moving to Vienna. Shalini Randeria, a U.S.-born academic whose research in sociology and social anthropology focused on questions of forced displacement now finds herself navigating the displacement of an entire university, including faculty and students, to a new home.

Vienna and Budapest share significant histories as former Austrian Imperial cities. Both also share histories of persecuting Jews. Central European University's move from Budapest to Vienna, and renovating a former early 20th century progressive psychiatric hospital for its campus, lays open one of the most difficult connections between the two cities - CEU's new campus was used between 1940 and 1945 by Nazis to torture and kill 789 children in their euthanasia program.

George Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and prominent liberal political figure, is the major benefactor of CEU. The relocation of CEU to Vienna, a dislocation from Soros' own birthplace in Hungary, and to a campus first representing progressive ideas that were turned into oppression, provides a canvas for learning about the potential of horror and hope in human existence that is likely not to be rivaled by any other university in the world.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Technology integration

Whether in higher education or practically any for-profit or non-profit sector, technology has transformed much of the way we interact. Some people blame the pandemic for the imposition of technology but it only accelerated what was inevitable. And so, higher education must incorporate technology, even though some evidence has indicated that students' learning has suffered during this time of technology invasion.

Continuous Relationship Management (CRM) is one way that technology may offer not only improved quality for students but savings for institutions. Some institutions are using CRM to integrate disparate student services in a unified system. The advantage of this approach is reaching students who may not otherwise research the resources available to them or walk into an office. These one-stop technologies also offer the opportunity to track students' inquiries and responses, which is key to growing services or programs that are in high demand.

An important element of any technology innovation is the awareness of both internal and external stakeholders. Because hesitancy to return to in-person interactions and new habits of relying on virtual participation have taken hold of faculty, staff, students, and external audiences, moving communications strategies from informing to engaging will likely be a necessity. When it comes to student recruitment, external audiences may be accessing information that many current faculty, staff, and students don't know is available. It is critical that internal constituencies understand the invisible marketing that is underway, often shaping prospective students' expectations.

While improved and greater reliance on technology is underway, campus IT workers are looking outside of higher education for opportunity. The exodus of key staff may present greater vulnerability as institutions try to do their best to integrate and enhance technology presence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Japan to welcome return of international students

Ending months of waiting, the Japanese government has signaled intent to allow international students to return. However, the actual rate of return is very low with only 87 of 147,000 having been granted reentry by January of 2022. The hope of Japanese institutions is that they will be able to recover approximately 147,000 visiting students after months of indecision, which was likely related to fear of backlash should Japan experience a resurgence of COVID19.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The "Great Resignation"

We had the "Great Recession" and now we have the "Great Resignation," says Anthony Kloyz who is an organizational psychologist. The reason - the COVID lock-down gave everyone more time to reflect on their lives and priorities and the conclusion was, "I don't want to continue living this way." Higher education is only a small part of a world-wide wave of protests against poor working conditions which is at the core of people quitting their jobs. to Some institutions are adjusting expectations for in-person versus virtual work as one way to accommodate workers' changing preferences, a trend that is likely to gain momentum.

The pandemic era has taken its toll on many employment sectors. Leadership turnover among California's community colleges may be indicative of the broader impact on higher education. Student affairs staff are one segment of higher education that appears to have suffered most significantly. A survey from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) found that 84% of student affairs workers said that stress and crises had led to their experiencing burnout Solutions recommended in the repot were "transparent salary information, equitable promotion policies, flexible work options and regular two-way feedback."

Turnover, burnout, and general demoralization are the outcomes of workplace dissatisfaction. Poor work cultures contribute to unhappiness, which is ironic in the face of higher education's centrality to developing human potential. Kevin McClure, who researches working conditions in higher education, commented in an interview with Inside Higher Education that the "most successful organizations in higher education over the course of the next 10 years are the ones that are gonna take workplace conditions and culture seriously and start doing that right now."

Burnout is a subjective determination and "burn-up" may be a more descriptive term that captures being spent and tire. Whether burnout or burn-up, creating environments that reduce its prevalence is likely a collective endeavor. Assuming that well-being, inclusiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship in the workplace are what employees want, the question becomes how do workplaces pivot to this kind of work culture? Further, what should higher education do to embrace and help the reported 40% of employees who were found in the survey to be considering quitting their current jobs within 3-6 months? Exploring options outside higher education isn't necessarily a bad thing. Looking around can sometimes result in realizing things aren't that bad or that things elsewhere aren't that great.

Surveys have found for years that the majority of workers are dissatisfied with their work environments but 40% on the lookout for new work is alarming and could represent a major impediment to productivity as experienced employees walk out the door. Some of the issue is about money, especially among service industry workers, but it's also about the respect and compassion of managers that results in even modest compensation increases to be effective in retaining workers.

Likely more important to attracting and retaining talented employees in higher education, a sense of belonging is one of the easiest things that institutions can do and all their employees can embrace. Indications are that the sense of mattering is particularly important for employees in the 30-45 age bracket as well as those of minoritzed or marginalized backgrounds. Leadership is key in establishing positive educational and work cultures. Hiring the person not the resume, listening, valuing diversity, supervisory support, professional development, and building the team are all part of the mix by which leadership can make a difference in cultivating positive work environments.

While assistance in moving out of higher education is becoming a new market in itself, others are attempting to address campus problems that result in attrition. Perhaps the answer is in a partnership between higher education and employers at the local level, offering career coaching, upgrading skills, and consulting with organizations about how to change their cultures. Maybe higher education should even take a look at itself, exploring what about its workers' complaints expose fundamental dissatisfaction with unrealistic expectations and work environments that are dehumanizing? To be sure - someone had best get to work on solutions and the clock is ticking...