Forum pictures US education abroad sector’s ‘new normal’
The Forum on Education Abroad held the in-person component of its 19th annual conference in Seattle last week, following two days of virtual sessions earlier this month.
The hybrid event welcomed over 1,000 participants between the two formats, of whom, 400 were first time attendees. President and CEO The Forum on Education Abroad, Melissa Torres noted the “increase in diversity represented by conference participants.”
“There was a noticeable increase in the number of people working in this field now who are representative of the changing demographics of our students and communities. It’s a wonderful change and made me proud of The Forum’s leadership in this area,” Torres told The PIE News.
She added that increasing diversity in the field is a key priority for the Forum’s board, council and staff and they seek to continue the momentum.
Enda Carroll, associate director of University College Dublin global programs also commented on the newcomers at the conference and in the field at large. “This huge injection of newcomers brought a freshness of ideas and dynamism to the conversations at the Forum conference this year,” Carroll told The PIE.
The education abroad sector is still in the process of bouncing back post-pandemic, and while numbers are still steadily increasing, many note it has been a complex rebound.
“This huge injection of newcomers brought a freshness of ideas and dynamism to the conversations”
Delegates spoke about student mental health issues that were exacerbated during the pandemic that are a hinderance to studying abroad for some students. Coupled with that is the risk aversion many students feel about traveling abroad after the pandemic.
Stakeholders shared with The PIE that they believe that many students are selecting destinations in western Europe they consider “safer choices” because of their fears of being any further from home.
In reflecting upon the pandemic and its lingering effects in the sector’s rebound, J.B. Terrins, head of global mobility at University of Galway told The PIE, “There was this paradigm shift — practically overnight we were all practiced at remotely teaching, learning, and working collaboratively.”
Yet, as professionals in the field began to return to their offices and students began travelling abroad again, there were often new routines and policies to navigate.
“With the world at our fingertips more than ever, we might have imagined a greater catalysing effect on integrating global interactions into programming and curricula,” Terrins continued.
“Whilst this remains a growth area I think there has understandably been, instead, a fair bit of steadying the boat in the new normal.”
Some of the sessions addressed thriving in the new normal, as well as student mental health and the residual effects of The Great Resignation. Presenters offered strategies to mitigate both real and perceived barriers for students. And with a conference theme of, ‘Themeless in Seattle’, presenters had much flexibility in selecting topics they believed to be the most relevant to address post-pandemic issues.
“It allowed the space for a range of diverse and interesting discussions to flourish in an organic way,” Carroll suggested.
“Many of our 90 sessions included new innovations and reflected a desire to share with others what has been successful on people’s own campuses and programs over the course of the last year or so,” asserted Torres.
“Study and interning abroad could come to a screeching halt if the guidance isn’t changed”
One of the most discussed concerns at the conference was the US Department of Education’s recent Dear Colleague Letter. “The Conference provided an important opportunity for the field to consider and discuss the implications of the new guidance in relation to TPS,” said Carroll.
Torres proffered that there is a “trepidation about the potential impact of the US Department of Education’s Dear Colleague Letter, and people are galvanised to help [the department] understand that study and interning abroad could come to a screeching halt if the guidance isn’t changed.”
The Department of Education has extended the deadline to submit comments and feedback to 30 March.
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