Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Foreign Students In America: They're Back!

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many foreign university students decided to stay home instead of pursuing the academic dreams in our institutions of higher learning. Some six years later, they're remembering the value of an American college degree in the international marketplace:
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Fueled by Asia, foreign student enrollment in US higher education institutions has increased significantly for the first time since the September 11, 2001 attacks, which led to tighter visa controls, a report said Monday.

The number of international students enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States increased by three percent to a total of 582,984 in the 2006/07 academic year, the Institute of International Education (IIE) said.

"This is the first significant increase in total international student enrollments since 2001/02," the institute said in its anual report "Open Doors."

In the previous academic year, the increase was just within a fraction of a percent.

In 2006/07, there was even a higher increase in the number of new international students -- those enrolled for the first time at a college or university in fall last year -- which rose 10 percent from the previous year.

Asia remains the largest sending region, accounting for 59 percent of total US international enrollments, and increasing by five percent this year.

Strong increases were seen from the top three sending countries - India up 10 percent, China up eight percent and South Korea by six percent.

Stringent enforcement of US visa policy and seemingly overzealous immigration officers following the September terror attacks not only scared away foreign students and tourists but dampened the investment climate of the United States.

"Washington has moved to address some of the visa concerns although problems still remain," one Asian diplomat told AFP.

An on-line survey conducted by IIE last month in conjunction with seven national higher education associations also suggests that campuses are beginning to see increases in the current fall 2007 semester, the institute said.

In addition, a report from the US State Department's bureau of consular affairs showed the number of student and exchange visas issued in 2007 rose 10.2 percent compared to the same period last year.

US Under Secretary of State for public diplomacy Karen Hughes said the increase in enrollments reflected the "dynamism" of American higher education institutions in a competitive international environment and demonstrated US "commitment" to welcoming international students.

"Given increased global competition for talent, as well as expanded higher education options in many of the leading sending countries, America needs to continue its proactive steps to insure that our academic doors remain wide open, and that students around the world understand that they will be warmly welcomed," said the institute's president, Allan Goodman.

Over the past year, the US government and private education institutions had been aggressively embarking on missions to Asia and elsewhere to regain the confidence of international students interested in studying in the United States.

This is the sixth consecutive year that India has sent the most students to the United States.

Enrollments from East Asia increased by three percent, with strong increases from China, South Korea and Taiwan partially offset by declines from Japan and Hong Kong.

The number of students from South and Central Asia increased by 10 percent, driven by the large increases from India, while enrollments from Pakistan and Bangladesh declined.

Southeast Asian enrollments increased two percent, with gains from Vietnam and Thailand partially offset by declines from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Enrollments from the Middle East increased by 25 percent in 2006/07, according to the report, with the most notable increase posted by Saudi Arabia.
It's good to see that the world's best and brightest young people are once again coming to our shores in order to "learn their stuff."

Having said that, we hope that the federal government is conducting thorough background checks of all foreign students to ensure that the next generation of terrorist operatives don't infiltrate our nation in the guise of "students."

But given the federal government's unwillingness to secure our borders against the continuing (and unchecked) deluge of illegal immigrants flooding across our frontiers, we doubt it.