International students face uncertainties, concerns for fall 2020, study shows

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A new study shows international students at large are more satisfied with the remote learning experience than their domestic counterparts are, but they are more concerned with health, safety and immigration.

The ongoing survey was started in May by the Student Experience in the Research University, or SERU, Consortium. Based out of UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, SERU is an academic and policy research collaboration that studies the experience of students at large public universities across the United States and around the world.

“We really wanted to be responsive to the realities that students were facing,” said Krista Soria, co-author of the survey and subsequent policy brief. “We wanted to be responsive to the direct needs of students, which we knew were drastically different than in prior semesters.”

The goal of the policy brief is to help campuses such as UC Berkeley better support their international students in the upcoming fall semester and thus facilitate re-enrollment.

ASUC Senator Dhruv Krishnaswamy, who represents international students, believes that UC Berkeley still has work to do in order to keep his community safe and supported.

“The Berkeley administration needs to work on making international students feel more welcome back onto campus and make them feel like there are thoughtful measures that have been put in place in case things go south,” Krishnaswamy said.

Soria and UC Berkeley-based co-author Igor Chirikov chose to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international students due to the increased uncertainty these students face, as they are studying at foreign institutions.

The sample for the survey is composed of all willing participants who study at any of five chosen U.S. universities within the SERU Consortium. While the names of these institutions are shielded for participant confidentiality, Chirikov said the sample is fairly representative of large public research universities in the United States as a whole.

Along with Krishnaswamy, other international ASUC Senators Rex Zhang and Samuel Peng echoed many of the concerns found in the study, but also said the shift to remote learning has not been without its challenges for international students.

“Since a lot of international students are in a different time zone, there is lack of access to synchronous lectures/sections, and UC Berkeley’s VPN service is not of great quality,” Zhang said in an email. “This largely increases the difficulty of international students pursuing online coursework.”

International students face the fear of potentially contracting COVID-19 if they return to the United States, with Zhang and Peng pointing out that the United States currently has far more active cases than other countries, including China, do.

But not returning to the United States poses another risk for international students, with their visas potentially in jeopardy if they are outside of the country for an extended period.

University administrations will need to accommodate all of these issues if they want to draw international students back, as Krishnaswamy said a number of them plan on staying in their home countries with their families for the fall semester.

Chirikov and Soria hope their policy brief will give universities a better chance to create policies that protect and benefit international students.

“There is so much change happening in the world that we just really wanted to give folks these insights so that they can make very informed decisions for the fall,” Soria said.

Contact Claire Daly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @DalyClaire13.