We read today that Presidents Xi and Trump had a ‘cordial’ hour long telephone conversation yesterday, in which the latter affirmed his commitment to the One China policy that has been respected by the USA for so many decades. Will this ameliorate any growing concerns among Chinese International students about their likely welcome in America?

There is still clearly much nervousness in higher education in both the UK post-Brexit and in the US post-Trump, about the potentially devastating effect that these two momentous events might have on International student mobility. In the UK’s case, how many continental European students will melt away now that they will be no longer eligible for finance from the Student Loan Company?  UCAS report that EU UG applications are down 7% this cycle alone. Brexit is going to have a major impact on student recruitment, especially for universities based in London which recruit as much as 25% of their students from the EU.

 In the US case, Trump seems to have got off on the wrong foot on three fronts with China. First, he took a congratulatory call from Taiwan. Second, he’s complained about China’s activities in the South China Sea. Third, he’s complained about the RMB/US$ exchange rate, suggesting that the Chinese government are manipulating it to gain trading advantage over America. Assuming that wiser counsels are beginning to prevail, the question now is whether this anti-Chinese rhetoric will have the same effect on US universities trying to recruit Chinese students as the British Government’s rhetoric on immigration and work visas (the absence thereof)  has had on Indian student recruitment. Indian demand for British post-graduate courses having halved in the past five years, as the USA under Obama opened its arms in welcome.

 It seems to me that universities on both sides of the Atlantic now need to toughen up their Chinese marketing strategies, confront potential concerns among students in China, and make them feel as welcome as possible. And since Trump uses Twitter as his medium, American universities need to use WeChat, Weibo and Youku to reach Chinese students directly, making sure nothing is lost in translation.

Otherwise, concerns may turn into nervousness and nervousness into reaction, as students either end up staying at home, or choosing to go to Canada or Australia in even greater numbers than they already do.