Number of foreign students in U.S. falls

The United States may soon lose its place as the top destination for international students, according to a report released Tuesday by the American Council on Education.

Though U.S. universities still have the largest international student enrollment, some European and Asian countries are beating the United States in percentage growth of enrollment. Between the 1999-2000 and 2004-2005 academic years, the United States increased its international student enrollment by 17 percent, compared with 29 percent in Britain, 42 percent in Australia, 46 percent in Germany, 81 percent in France and 108 percent in Japan.

The comparatively unimpressive growth in the United States could be partly due to the move toward the standardization of European higher education systems. This effort, called the Bologna Process, now includes 45 European nations who wish to increase student mobility across Europe, according to the Bologna Process' Web site.

Travel restrictions and visa complications are major fears for international students, said Madeline Green, an author of the report and the council's vice president for international initiatives.

"There's a perception out there that it's difficult to get a visa to the United States, that the United States is unwelcoming," Green told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The post-Sept. 11 environment could be another deterring factor for foreign students thinking about attending school in the United States, according to the American Council on Education report.

Erik Swanson, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences who is studying abroad at the London School of Economics, said he feels the war on terror has little to do with the decline in enrollment.

"Personally, I don't think the war is having much effect," he said. "I haven't met anyone with resentment towards us."

The council found that Middle Eastern students in particular were choosing to study in Europe, Asia or the Middle East rather than in the United States. The enrollment of students from Oman, Indonesia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia declined by more than 12 percent between the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 school years, the report said.

Abdul Karim Bangura, an AU professor and the faculty advisor to the AU Muslim Student Association, said Muslim students feel unsafe in America after the events of Sept. 11.

"Many of them have been profiled at airports and even on the highways," Bangura said. "Our government's rhetoric used to describe Middle Easterners as 'Islamic terrorists,' 'Axis of Evil' [and] 'Islamic fascists' ... does not help matters."

International student enrollment at AU seems to have been affected by these concerns, according to a 2005 report by AU's Office of International Affairs. International students made up 11 percent of the undergraduate student body in fall 2001, the report said. In fall 2005, international students accounted for only six percent of the enrolled undergraduates.

High tuition costs might be another cause for declining international student enrollment, Swanson said.

"If [my British friends] would have to pay U.S. tuition to go to school, it simply wouldn't be financially viable for most," Swanson said. "They think our tuition is absurd."

Whatever the cause of the decline in international student enrollment might be, Bangura said he fears relations between the United States and the Middle East will only grow worse as fewer students choose to study here.

"Relations are strengthened when there is exchange of people - they get to know one another, and communication flourishes," he said.

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