WASHINGTON -- For the first time since 1971, the absolute number of foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities declined in 2003/2004, apparently as an indirect result of the U.S. ''war on terrorism'', according to an annual survey released here Monday.
The total number of foreign students who came to the United States to study for the academic year last year came to 572,509, a decrease of 2.4 percent below 2002/03, according to 'Open Doors 2004,' which is published by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the U.S. State Department.
The number of undergraduate students enrolled in 2003/04 actually fell by some five percent, according to the report which noted that some of the loss was made up by a 2.5 increase in the number of graduate students for the year.
But incomplete statistics collected from graduate schools for the 2004/05 academic year suggest that enrollments may be down by six percent, according to Hey-Kyung Koh, editor of 'Open Doors' at IIE.
At the same time, however, the report found that the number of U.S. students who went to foreign countries for study increased by 8.5 percent in 2002/03, the last full academic year for which statistics are available, to nearly 175,000.
While about two-thirds of those U.S. students attended universities in Europe, enrollments in Latin American universities increased by 14 percent to 27,000. Enrollments in Africa (nearly 5,000) and Oceania -- mainly Australia and New Zealand -- rose some 16 percent to nearly 13,000.
The new statistics presented a mixed bag for U.S. educators who have expressed great concern over the impact of the U.S. war on terror on student exchanges since it was launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Students, particularly from predominantly Islamic countries and, to some extent, from other countries in Asia, have found it more difficult to obtain visas in a timely manner, despite efforts by U.S. consular officials to speed up the process.
U.S. educational and scientific associations have warned that a decline in the number and quality of foreign students coming to the United States for advanced work, in particular, threatens the country's long-term competitiveness and global image.
''It is clearly in America's long-term national-security interest to welcome international students to come here to study'', said Allan Goodman, IIE president. ''International students in U.S. classrooms widen the perspectives of their U.S. classmates, contribute to vital research activities, strengthen the local economies in which they live, and building lasting ties between their home countries and the United States''.
The survey also found that Australia, New Zealand, and Britain are acquiring greater market share of foreign students at Washington's expense while the perception abroad that international students may no long be welcome in the U.S. also contributed to the decline.
Other factors contributing to the decline in foreign enrollments here, according to IIE Peggy Blumenthal, included the relatively high cost of tuition and ''dramatic increases in the capacity to educate students at home'' in many countries.
Nearly 50 percent of all foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities were from just five countries, four of which are in Asia. India provided the greatest number -- nearly 80,000, a seven percent increase over the previous year. It was followed by China at nearly 62,000; South Korea, at 52,000; Japan, 41,000; Canada, 27,000, and Taiwan, 26,000. Overall, almost 57 percent of international students in the U.S. came from Asia.
Mexico ranked number seven with 13,000, followed by Turkey (11,000), Thailand, Indonesia, and Germany (nearly 9,000 each), Britain (8,500), Brazil (7,800), Colombia (7,500), and Kenya (7,400).
The biggest percentage declines in enrollment by country included Indonesia (15 percent), Japan (11 percent), and Thailand (10.5 percent), according to the report. Declines in the enrollments of undergraduates were particularly steep -- 20 percent in the case of China, 14 percent for Japan, and nine percent for India.
The number of students from Europe and the Middle East fell five percent and nine percent, respectively. The decline for the Middle East was pronounced, because it came on top of a ten-percent decline in 2002/03, the first academic year after the 9/11 attacks.
Enrollments for students from Saudi Arabia (3,521) were down 16 percent, from Kuwait (1,846) 17 percent, from Jordan (1,853) 14 percent, and from the United Arab Emirates (1,248) 30 percent.
Overall, the Middle East account for six percent of all international students enrolled here, although that percentage included some 11,00 students from Turkey. After Asia, Europe, with 13 percent of total students, had the greatest representation, followed by Latin America with 12 percent, Africa with seven percent, and Canada and Oceania with six percent.
Within the U.S., the institutions that attracted the most foreign students included mainly public universities in California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. The University of Southern California enrolled the greatest number of foreign students in the year -- 6,647.
Going in the other direction, U.S. students strongly preferred Europe as their destinations, with nearly half of all U.S. students studying abroad choosing just four countries -- Britain, Italy, Spain, and France.
Of the top 20 countries in which U.S. students studied last year, only half were outside central or western Europe -- Australia (10,700 U.S. students) Mexico (8,800), Costa Rica (4,300), Japan (3,500), China (1,500), Chile and New Zealand (1,900 each), South Africa and Ecuador (1,600 each), and Russia (1,500).
The report noted that the number of students in Asia declined sharply in 2002/03 due to the SARS epidemic which closed down programs in spring and summer 2003. Study in the Middle East, which traditionally has been dominated by Israel, also fell dramatically due to concerns over violence.
The countries that saw the greatest increases in U.S. student enrollment included Cuba (1,474, up 15 percent), Brazil (1,345, up 26 percent), Denmark (1,127, up 24 percent), South Korea (739, up 17 percent), India (703, up 12 percent), Peru (599, up 14 percent), and Vietnam (286, up 31 percent).
The report that U.S. students generally spend much shorter time periods abroad than their foreign counterparts in the United States. The vast majority of U.S. students who studied abroad in 2002/03 -- 92 percent -- did so for one semester (of four months) or less, with only seven percent spending a full academic year abroad.
Nonetheless, the number of students who studied abroad 2002/03 came to almost 150 percent more than the number who did so in 1991-92.
© 2004 OneWorld US