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Foreign Student Numbers At Lowest In 3 Decades

by Jim Lobe

Virtually All Immigration Processing Stopped Since 9/11

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The number of foreign students studying in the United States has dropped for the first time in more than three decades, in part because of a perception those students are not welcome here.

The absolute number of foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities declined by 2.4 percent in 2003-2004 to 572,509, according to 'Open Doors', the annual survey of the Institute of International Education (IIE).

The number of undergraduate students registered fell by some five percent, added the report, which noted that some of the loss was made up by a 2.5 increase in the number of graduate students for the academic year.

Incomplete statistics collected from graduate schools for the 2004-2005 academic year suggest enrolments may be down by six percent, 'Open Doors' Editor Hey-Kyung Koh said in a statement.

At the same time, the report found that the number of U.S. students who went to foreign countries to study grew by 8.5 percent in 2002-2003, the last full academic year for which statistics are available, to nearly 175,000.

While about two-thirds of those U.S. students attended universities in Europe, enrollments in Latin American universities increased by 14 percent to 27,000. Enrolments in Africa (nearly 5,000) and Oceania -- mainly Australia and New Zealand -- rose some 16 percent, to nearly 13,000.

The new statistics present a mixed bag for U.S. educators, who have expressed great concern over the possible impact of the Bush administration's "war on terror" on student exchanges since it was launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

In the past three years students, particularly from predominantly Islamic countries and, to some extent, from other countries in Asia, have found it more difficult to obtain visas in a timely manner, despite efforts by U.S. consular officials to speed up the process.

U.S. educational and scientific associations have warned that a decline in the number and quality of foreign students coming to the United States for advanced work, in particular, threatens the country's long-term competitiveness and global image.

"It is clearly in America's long-term national-security interest to welcome international students to come here to study," said IIE President Allan Goodman in a statement released with the study.

"International students in U.S. classrooms widen the perspectives of their U.S. classmates, contribute to vital research activities, strengthen the local economies in which they live, and build lasting ties between their home countries and the United States."

The survey also found that Australia, New Zealand and Britain are acquiring greater market share of foreign students at Washington's expense, while the perception abroad that international students may no longer be welcome in the United States also contributed to the decline in enrolment.

Other factors contributing to the decrease included the relatively high cost of tuition and "dramatic increases in the capacity to educate students at home" in many countries.

Nearly 50 percent of all foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities were from just five countries in 2003-2004, four of which are in Asia.

India provided the greatest number -- nearly 80,000, a seven percent hike over the previous year. It was followed by China (nearly 62,000); South Korea (52,000); Japan (41,000); Canada (27,000) and Taiwan (26,000). Overall, almost 57 percent of international students here came from Asia.

Mexico ranked number seven with 13,000, followed by Turkey (11,000), Thailand, Indonesia and Germany (nearly 9,000 each), Britain (8,500), Brazil (7,800), Colombia (7,500) and Kenya (7,400).

The largest percentage declines in enrolment by country included Indonesia (15 percent), Japan (11 percent), and Thailand (10.5 percent), according to the report. The drop in of undergraduate numbers was particularly steep -- 20 percent in the case of China, 14 percent for Japan and nine percent for India.

The number of students from Europe and the Middle East fell five percent and nine percent, respectively. The decline for the Middle East was pronounced, because it came on top of a 10-percent fall in 2002-2003, the first academic year after the 9/11 attacks.

Enrolments for students from Saudi Arabia (3,521) were down 16 percent, from Kuwait (1,846) 17 percent, from Jordan (1,853) 14 percent and from the United Arab Emirates (1,248) 30 percent.

Overall, the Middle East accounted for six percent of all international students enrolled here, although that percentage included some 1,100 students from Turkey. After Asia, Europe, with 13 percent of total students, had the greatest representation, followed by Latin America (12 percent) Africa (seven percent) and Canada and Oceania (six percent).

Within the United States, the institutions that attracted the most foreign students included mainly public universities in California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. The University of Southern California enrolled the greatest number of foreign students in the year -- 6,647.

Going in the other direction, U.S. students strongly preferred Europe as their destination, with nearly one-half of all American students studying abroad choosing just four countries -- Britain, Italy, Spain and France.

The countries that saw the greatest increases in U.S. student enrolment included Cuba (1,474, up 15 percent), Brazil (1,345, up 26 percent), Denmark (1,127, up 24 percent), South Korea (739, up 17 percent), India (703, up 12 percent), Peru (599, up 14 percent), and Vietnam (286, up 31 percent).

The report found that U.S. students generally spend much less time abroad than their foreign counterparts in the United States. The vast majority of U.S. students who studied overseas in 2002-2003 -- 92 percent -- did so for one semester (of four months) or less, with only seven percent spending a full academic year abroad.

Nonetheless, the number of students who studied abroad in that year came to almost 150 percent more than the number who did so in 1991-92.

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Albion Monitor November 19, 2004 (

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