Despite all the polls suggesting the contrary, Donald Trump has won the US election to become the 45th President of the United States. The shock result sent waves through the higher education community. There will undoubtedly be a significant period of uncertainty until the full effects of this decision become clear.
Trump’s campaign never delved deeply into tertiary education policies, probably because his campaign wasn’t focused on that particular demographic. He received 72% of the white, male, non-college educated vote and 62% of the white, female, non-college educated vote. The language he used throughout was anti-intellectual, and that’s not to mention comments he made about, “loving the poorly educated.”
What exactly his policies on higher education will be are difficult to predict at this point. However, his undiplomatic comments regarding foreign nationals and certain religious groups, coupled with his pro-privatisation approach to student loans and his controversial opinions on such topics as climate change and immunisation will do little to reassure higher education professionals, academics and students.
Is a brain drain imminent?
We mentioned prior to the election that many international students were worried about studying in the US should Trump win the election, particularly those coming from nations he’s specifically targeted. Mexico, for example, sent around 14,000 students to the US in 2014; Saudi Arabia sent around 50,000; and India sent almost 100,000. Whether those students will be comfortable studying in a country whose head of state suggested building a wall along the southern border, referred to Mexicans as “rapists” and announced his intention to create a database of all Muslims in the country, is another matter entirely.
It’s not just Donald Trump’s comments on foreign nationals that are causing alarm in the industry either, and it’s not only international students who are worried. His economic political position means that income tax and public funding may well be cut, leading to less money for universities and research. His stance on aid for low-income families could result in fewer students being able to access higher education, and his views on the liberal arts could cause serious problems for those departments and institutions.
Additionally, in a time when higher education is making an active effort to promote gender equality, his wildly misogynistic opinions set alarm bells ringing. No one needs reminding of the much-quoted 2005 video released shortly before the election, but in case you do, here it is. With the issue of sexual assault on campuses being much discussed during the last year, Trump’s personal history coupled with his party’s calls to revoke the need for universities to investigate claims could prompt at least some women to look elsewhere for education and work.
Reactions on social media, with many international students expressing their intentions to study elsewhere now, may just be knee-jerk reactions. The fact that Canada’s immigration website crashed as the results came in and some Canadian universities saw a huge increase in hits on the night of the election may just be emotional responses. However, if international student numbers do drop as a result of the election it could cause serious troubles for universities reliant not only on the fees they bring in, but the cultural and intellectual richness they add to US higher education. An insulated society is not conducive to academic progress, especially in a globalised world.
Could Donald Trump’s policies really happen?
How much Donald Trump is going to change the higher education sector is anyone’s guess. It formed no real part of his campaign and he’s yet to fully discuss it. However, should he decide to implement change, he has a lot on his side. Unlike Clinton, he won’t be fighting an opposition-filled Congress, meaning he would be able to revoke and bring in bills with relative ease.
If this happens, if the worst-case scenarios for higher education come true, and if the US begins to look more inhospitable, less welcoming and more intellectually restrictive, students and academics alike may look for greener pastures.
This would be a blow not only to the US, but to everyone in the academic world.