IEASA 2019 Conference Leaders Panel
Wednesday August 21, 2019
Dr. Esther Brimmer

  • Good Morning, thank you to IEASA and fellow panel members.
  • I am the Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Founded in 1948, we have over 10,000 members in 150 countries, with the vast majority at over 3,500 institutions in the United States.
  • I am delighted to be here and to offer reflections on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Technology and globalization continue to change the way we work. There are many pressures from the impact of digital technology, to the desire for sustainable development, to renewed pressure on institutions of higher education to demonstrate their economic contribution.
  • My remarks will cover three areas:
    • observations on the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution,
    • implications for international educators, and
    • the need to manage the context given political trends that affect our work.
Observations on the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution
  • A World Economic Forum Report on The Future of Jobs speculates that the majority of children “entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.”
  • At NAFSA: Association of International Educators, we think one of the best ways to prepare our students to lead is through international education.
  • NAFSA works to highlight the skills and insights gained from international education and their applicability to workforce development as the “fourth industrial revolution” unfolds.
  • 2018 report on the global skills gap, QS found that the four skills with the largest gaps were so-called “soft-skills”- Problem Solving, Resilience, Communication, and Adaptability. These are some of the same skills that international education and study abroad provide students. These skills complement the cultural, historical, geographical, and language learning that occurs while studying abroad or in a fully internationalized curriculum.
  • The new knowledge economy requires innovation. International education, especially internationalizing the campus can help contribute to innovation. Internationalization includes global learning inside and outside the classroom.
  • In the United States, colleges and universities are found in communities large and small across the country. Some are small towns others are in the heart of urban areas. Thus, these institutions are well-placed to be economic engines revitalizing their communities. The research of international scholars and perspectives of international students can enliven discussions, spark creativity, and ignite innovation.
  • However, there are social challenges to realizing the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s knowledge economy. Like the digital divide of a generation ago, today in the U.S. we face a growing “global” divide between those who will have access to an international education and will be primed for success in our globalized world—and those who will not.
  • In wealthy countries like the United States, most issues of social change are not about the existence of a good or service, but about ensuring that everyone in the society has the chance to use it. The issue is not scarcity, but access.
  • As educators, we should endeavor to ensure that all students enrolled at our institutions have access to international programs.
  • In the United States, our “evolving narrative” is a deeper understanding of barriers to access.
  • NAFSA supports public policies that increase opportunities for American college students to gain the global education that is necessary for them to thrive in the global economy. A generation ago, there was a national concern that students without access to computers would fall behind their peers and be at a competitive disadvantage in seeking jobs; the same can be said today of students without access to global educational opportunities. Study abroad is a learning opportunity that enables students to develop critical skills and that contributes in vital ways to preparing students for the competitive global environment into which they will graduate.
  • Increasing the number of students who study abroad, especially in a wider range of countries, will create more globally minded citizens with a better understanding of the world and the role we can all play in making it more just and more peaceful.
  • The United States has a federal system. The decentralized nature of U.S. higher education allows for considerable variance in study abroad participation from institution to institution and from state to state. Analysis of study abroad enrollment by diversity and host region lets institutions and state leaders gauge how they compare with national trends. Although the diversity of study abroad participation has increased in recent years, minority students are still greatly underrepresented in study abroad.
  • Also, according to the 2017 Open Doors report, less than 2% of all study abroad participants were at 2-year institutions. We all know there are good and important reasons why it is harder for students at two-year institutions to study abroad. They are often first-generation college students who have fewer resources and more time-constraints such as family responsibilities or full-time jobs. A significant portion of U.S. workers will never attend or graduate from a four-year institution, but they will be competing in the same global economy. Therefore, it is imperative that we find ways to provide global competencies to this important segment of the higher education population.
  • NAFSA has expanded its services to international educators at community colleges, which are 2-year institutions that confer an “associates degree” instead of a “bachelors” degree. Half of the students in higher education in the United States attend community colleges. NAFSA aims to serve international educators at all institutions, including research universities, public and private institutions, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges.
  • NAFSA believes that:
    • The United States needs more students going abroad to gain a deeper understanding of the world,
    • The study abroad population should better reflect the diverse demographics of U.S. higher education,
    • and more U.S. students should study in more countries around the globe. Currently 40% of U.S. education abroad students’ study in four countries in Western Europe.
  • But international education is not just about mobility.
  • In our work we are trying to expand the numbers and types of people who have access to international education. We seek to have a wide array of people benefit from internationalization which brings global learning to more people in more places.
  • Between now and 2050, 98 percent of the world’s population growth is expected to take place outside of North America and Europe. We think Americans need to understand the global marketplace and ensure our graduates are comfortable working and interacting with people from around the world.
Implications for international educators
  • As the pace of change in the world increases, it becomes more important and at the same time, more difficult to understand the workforce development needs of employers because they are evolving quickly. This means that as educators, we need to focus even more on preparing students to cope with change and provide opportunities for life-long learning.
  • International educators can work more closely with campus career centers, and with employers, to help craft international programs that produce rich experiences, in-depth knowledge, and desirable skills.
  • As international educators we can contribute to our societies’ understanding of how people learn, and how to teach across cultures.
  • NAFSA provides extensive professional development tools for educators and publishes an extensive range of manuals, books, and reports on international education. I will draw from these materials.
  • In August 2018, NAFSA published a white paper as part of our NAFSA Worldview series, entitled, “The Economic Imperative of Global Education.” The report shared the themes of a workshop we hosted with business leaders that was held in Washington, DC, on Capitol Hill to help inform staff working with members of Congress.
  • There is a lively academic discussion of learning across cultures; NAFSA has published a book entitled, Learning Across Cultures: Locally and Globally and another called Making Global Learning Universal.
  • Moreover, in a July 2019 edition of NAFSA’s publication, Trends and Insights, Bryan McAllister-Grande argues that international education should be considered a new discipline drawing on anthropology, cross-cultural psychology, historicism, critical sociology/global studies, and learning sciences. (See “Golden Ages on the Horizon: International Higher Education and the Knowledge Revolution”). NAFSA notes the growth of teaching and learning centers in the higher education institutions in the United States. In this regard, as you may know, NAFSA has five Knowledge Communities, including one on Education Abroad and another on Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship.
Managing the context
  • As we approach the development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to understand that international education shapes and is shaped by global conditions. We see the rise of xenophobia and nationalism in many parts of the world. We know there is a backlash against greater global interconnectedness. In many countries, including my own, there are bitter debates about social inclusion and immigration, which are sharpened by fears of being left behind in a changing economy.
  • One of NAFSA’s Senior Fellows, Jenny J. Lee, PhD, from the University of Arizona, and who is also a visiting scholar at the University of Cape Town, has written several NAFSA articles about neo-racism, xenophobia and international students. (See “Removing the Blinders: Neo-Racism and International Students,” Trends and Insights, January 2017)
  • As I noted earlier, in the U.S. international education can spark innovation in many places, rural and urban, because institutions of higher education are found throughout the country. We need to remind policy-makers of this contribution of international education to local and national well-being.
  • NAFSA strives to keep the United States open and welcoming of international students and scholars.
  • At a time when the forces of division have been gaining momentum, it is even more important that we maintain our international ties through collaborations between academic institutions.
  • NAFSA launched the “Welcome to Succeed Campaign” to defend international students and scholars. We work with advocates around the country to take action to publicly defend international students. More information is available on our website. (
  • In addition, we now manage the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign.
    • June 1, 2019, NAFSA officially began administering the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign. The grassroots campaign that began at Temple University has over 300 participating institutions, 57 of which grant scholarships to international students.
    • #YouAreWelcomeHere is a welcome message from U.S. higher education to international students around the world. It is a campaign designed to affirm that our institutions are diverse, friendly, safe and committed to student development.
  • We think international educators can help societies manage the arrival and impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • We can help higher education understand the knowledge economy; we can help create international programs that provide needed experience and skills; and we can help counter the backlash that arises from the fear of change, by promoting the local and national benefits of internationalization.
  • NAFSA provides programs, products and services, and physical and virtual meeting space for the worldwide community of international educators. We enjoy and appreciate building good relationships with colleagues around the world.