A new report suggests the United States could lose its position as the most popular destination for international students to other countries, affecting U.S. competitiveness and cultural diplomacy.
The report, titled “Students on the Move: The Future of International Students in the United States,” was released by the American Council on Education in late October.
The report says competition from other countries is reducing the share of international students coming to the United States
The Association of International Educators estimates that international students and their dependents pumped some $13.3 billion into the U.S. economy in the 2004-05 academic year.
But students from other countries contribute much more than money.
International students constitute a large proportion of science and technology graduate students, whose skills are in high demand, said Madeleine F. Green, vice president for international initiatives and an author of the report.
International Ph.D students are often teaching or research assistants, contributing their skills to their universities.
Green added that the presence of overseas students exposed Americans to different experiences and outlooks. “An international presence on our campuses is a very important way for U.S. students to learn about the world.”
Green also believes that hosting international students is a form of public diplomacy. “You have half a million international students . with a good impression of the U.S. . many of whom wind up in influential positions in their home countries,” she said.
Yet, despite efforts by both the government and schools to ease procedures, large numbers of international students are choosing to go to other countries for their higher education. The United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France and Japan all attract massive numbers of students each year.
One of those students is Syafrin Liong, a 23-year-old from Indonesia, who chose to study in Australia. A graduate student at Curtin University of Technology, near Perth, Ausralia, Liong said he appreciates that Australia is less expensive and closer to his home than many other destinations.
Liong did consider other countries for pursuing his master’s degree. “Actually, I was thinking about China.”
However, though he speaks Chinese, Liong felt Australia was a better destination for someone studying information technology. Also, studying in Australia offered him the opportunity to get a permanent residency visa after he graduates.
Liong said cultural adjustment was not much of a problem, particularly since there are many Indonesians and other Asians where he lives.
Liong’s experience highlights the greater choices international students have today as well as the tendency for some students to choose destinations closer to home.
Green believes a number of countries are trying to attract international students from their own neighborhood.
“Australia is a kind of regional hub for Asia,” she said. Singapore is also trying to attract Asian students while the United Arab Emirates is trying to get students from the Middle East, according to Green.
The report also points out that several nations have developed national policies in which universities and governments work together to attract international students.
They also hunt for students aggressively. Many Australian universities for instance, send representatives to other countries to interview and recruit some of their international students.
European countries are pursuing a ‘Bologna process’ to make the movement of students within Europe easier.
Despite these developments, American higher education, especially graduate education, is still well-regarded.
Kaustubh Jagtap, a 23-year-old graduate student from India said he finds many aspects of graduate education in the Unites States different.
Jagtap, who is pursuing a master’s degree in telecommunications at the University of Maryland, points out that in the United States, he can choose the subjects he wants to study.
He adds that his syllabus is not based on one set of exams and that faculty can relate what they teach to actual industry experience.
“Here the main stress is on practical stuff,” he said.
Jagtap said he considered other destinations as well, finding studying the United Kingdom too expensive and the career prospects in Australia unsatisfactory.
Green said it’s possible that the U.S. share in higher education could go up again. “However, we’re going to have to work real hard,” she said.
Green also pointed out that the number of international students continues to grow worldwide. “It’s not a finite pie.”