Tuesday, December 28, 2004

U.S. Slips in Attracting the World's Best Students

Here's a shocker:

"American universities, which for half a century have attracted the world's best and brightest students with little effort, are suddenly facing intense competition as higher education undergoes rapid globalization.

The European Union, moving methodically to compete with American universities, is streamlining the continent's higher education system and offering American-style degree programs taught in English. Britain, Australia and New Zealand are aggressively recruiting foreign students, as are Asian centers like Taiwan and Hong Kong. And China, which has declared that transforming 100 universities into world-class research institutions is a national priority, is persuading top Chinese scholars to return home from American universities.

'What we're starting to see in terms of international students now having options outside the U.S. for high-quality education is just the tip of the iceberg,' said David G. Payne, an executive director of the Educational Testing Service, which administers several tests taken by foreign students to gain admission to American universities. 'Other countries are just starting to expand their capacity for offering graduate education. In the future, foreign students will have far greater opportunities.'

Foreign students contribute $13 billion to the American economy annually. But this year brought clear signs that the United States' overwhelming dominance of international higher education may be ending. In July, Mr. Payne briefed the National Academy of Sciences on a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half.

Foreign applications to American graduate schools declined 28 percent this year. Actual foreign graduate student enrollments dropped 6 percent. Enrollments of all foreign students, in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs, fell for the first time in three decades in an annual census released this fall. Meanwhile, university enrollments have been surging in England, Germany and other countries.

Some of the American decline, experts agree, is due to post-Sept. 11 delays in processing student visas, which have discouraged thousands of students, not only from the Middle East but also from dozens of other nations, from enrolling in the United States. American educators and even some foreign ones say the visa difficulties are helping foreign schools increase their share of the market.

'International education is big business for all of the Anglophone countries, and the U.S. traditionally has dominated the market without having to try very hard,' said Tim O'Brien, international development director at Nottingham Trent University in England. 'Now Australia, the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand and Canada are competing for that dollar, and our lives have been made easier because of the difficulties that students are having getting into the U.S. International students say it's not worth queuing up for two days outside the U.S. consulate in whatever country they are in to get a visa when they can go to the U.K. so much more easily.'"

Once they gain a little momentum, it's going to be the other countries that won't have to try very hard. Foriegn students aren't going to be much interested in attending universities in a wildly anti-intellectual, xenophobic country that's hard to get into, that requires them to check their civil liberties at the door, and that legislates against investment in cutting edge scientific research ("intelligent design" theories excepted). Of course, none of this will get much notice beyond the Times, its readers and those in academia; the long-term economic implications of this brain drain are way beyond the grasp of a populace preoccupied with putting parental warning stickers on textbooks that include evolutionary theory.


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