Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, North America

Chinese Lead Record Year for Foreign Study in U.S.

Jim Lobe and Peter Boaz

WASHINGTON, Nov 15 2010 (IPS) - Led by a whopping 30 percent increase in Chinese enrollment, U.S. institutions of higher learning attracted a record number of foreign students during the 2009/10 academic year, according to the latest in an annual series of reports released here Monday by the Institute of International Education (IIE).

For the first time since 2000, China beat out India in sending the most students – nearly 128,000 – to U.S. colleges and universities, according to IIE. A snap survey of some 700 campuses found that last year’s trends appeared to be continuing in the 2010-11 academic year and that China is likely to increase its lead. India, whose enrollment numbers here grew by two percent, ranked second in 2009- 2010, with nearly 105,000 students.

Altogether, the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities increased by three percent in 2009-2010 to nearly 700,000, according to the report, “Open Doors 2010”, and students from the leading Asian countries – China, India, South Korea (72,000), Taiwan (27,000), and Japan (25,000) – accounted for more than half of the total.

“The United States continues to host more international students than any other country in the world,” said Allan Goodman, IIE’s president. “Active engagement between U.S. and international students in American classrooms provides students with valuable skills that will enable them to collaborate across cultures and borders to address shared global challenges in the years ahead.”

In contrast to the increase in the number of foreign students here, enrollment by U.S. students in “study abroad” and other programmes that take them overseas fell about 0.8 percent last year, to some 262,000. Analysts attributed the drop both to the after-effects of the 2008 financial crisis and a sharp plunge in the number of students who went to Mexico due to concerns over the H1N1 virus. The total, however, came to more than twice the number of U.S. students who studied abroad 10 years ago.

Of those U.S. students who went abroad, well over half chose to study in Europe. As in the past, Britain, Italy, Spain and France were the four most popular destinations and took more than a third of the total.

But the fifth-ranking country last year was China, a reflection of the growing ties between the two countries. “That was really new for me,” noted Peggy Blumenthal, IIE’s executive vice president.

More than 13,000 U.S. students studied in China during the 2009-2010 academic year.

Blumenthal also noted that last year was the first in which more foreign students chose to study in China (238,000) than China sent abroad for study (229,000). China, she said, is offering more scholarships for foreign students to study at its universities. “The world is really shifting,” she said.

President Barack Obama has called for 100,000 U.S. students to study in China over the next four years. “We’re well on the way to achieving that (goal),” said Ann Stock, who heads the bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs which supports the IIE’s publication. “It’s very much an indication of the importance of developing relations with China,” she noted.

Besides China, other favoured non-European destinations for U.S. students included Australia (11,000), Mexico (7,300), Costa Rica (6,400), Japan (5,800), Argentina (4,700), South Africa (4,160), Chile (3,500), Ecuador (2,900), and Brazil (2,800). Altogether 14 of the top 25 destinations were outside Europe.

Besides the plunge in Mexico, U.S. enrollment fell more than 10 percent last year in Italy, Austria and India, while it rose by more than 10 percent in Argentina (15 percent), South Africa (12 percent), Chile (28 percent), the Netherlands (14 percent), Denmark (21 percent), Peru (32 percent), and South Korea (29 percent).

The numbers of international students who attend U.S. undergraduate and graduate institutions have risen more or less steadily since the 1950s when national statistics were first compiled. The only period in which there was some decline came after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001 when Washington implemented cumbersome new security procedures that slowed the visa-approval process, while fears about growing Islamophobia discouraged many Muslims from applying for admission to U.S. colleges and universities.

Concerned about the falling enrollment and the potential loss of some of the nearly 20 billion dollars a year foreign students currently inject into the U.S. economy, colleges and universities pressed the administration of President George W. Bush to at least speed up the visa process.

Goodman said his organisation has not received any complaints during the last few years. “Visas are not a big story anymore,” he said.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia sent nearly 16,000 students for study in the United States last year – an increase of nearly 25 percent over the previous year. With a population of only 25 million, the kingdom ranked seventh last year among all source countries, sandwiched between Japan, which held the sixth rank, and Mexico, the eighth.

Several other predominantly Muslim countries – or countries with large Muslim populations – boosted their enrollment, including Turkey (the 10th-ranked country), Nigeria (20), and Malaysia (21), although enrollments from Indonesia fell by 7.5 percent and Pakistan (23), by 1.4 percent.

In addition to China, many emerging and developing nations, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, are trying to attract foreign students by setting up new programmes. Moreover, Blumenthal said, a growing number of U.S. trained students are returning to their home countries to teach.

With the exception of Africa, “We can no longer really talk about a brain drain,” she said, adding that mobility has become an emerging feature of the current era. Anecdotal evidence, she noted, suggested that Chinese students were returning “much more quickly” to their homeland than had previously been the case, in part because of the job opportunities presented by the rapid growth in Beijing’s economy.

A majority of nearly 60 percent of all foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities either major or specialise in business and management, engineering, or mathematics and the sciences. The favoured destination for foreign students in the U.S. was California; some 94,000 foreign students attended the state’s colleges and universities. California was followed by New York (76,000), Texas (59,000), Massachusetts (35,000), and Illinois (31,000).

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