Foreign Universities Would Welcome More American Study-Abroad Students

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon May 19 14:56:52 UTC 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008

Foreign Universities Would Welcome More American Study-Abroad Students


A new report by the Institute of International Education says that foreign
universities would welcome more students from the United States but that
American students increasingly prefer short-term programs to the semester-
and yearlong programs that many foreign universities continue to offer.
The report, "Meeting America's Global Education Challenge: Exploring Host
Country Capacity for Increasing U.S. Study Abroad," which will be
available on the institute's Web site today, asks whether universities
abroad are able and willing to take in more American students at a time
when both colleges and lawmakers in the United States are seeking a rapid
expansion of study-abroad numbers.

Nearly 225,000 American students study abroad each year, according to the
most-recent figures from the institute. That represents a relatively small
portion of the college population, which worries policy makers. They say
they hear regularly from industry that too many college graduates are ill
prepared to work in a multinational environment. So Congress is pushing
forward with the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act. It would
use leveraged grants to increase the number of American students who study
abroad to one million annually within a decade. The bill has passed the
House of Representatives and awaits approval from the Senate, where it has
strong bipartisan support.

But where would these students go? The institute's report, based on a
survey of host institutions outside the United States, attempts to answer
that question. More than 530 universities responded to the survey,
conducted last fall. Sixty-four percent of the institutions were based in
Europe, 11 percent were in Asia, 9 percent were in Canada, 8 percent were
in Australia or New Zealand, and 6 percent were in Latin America.

Programs at Odds With U.S. Trends

The survey found that virtually every institution would welcome more
American students but that the programs most institutions offer for study
abroad were designed for a full semester or a year. Only 16 percent
offered programs two months in length, and only 22 percent provided
programs of less than two months. That is at odds with trends in the
United States. Much of the growth in recent years has come in trips of
eight weeks or less, typically in the summer or during winter break. Today
about 53 percent of students who travel abroad from the United States
participate in such short-term programs. Only 37 percent study abroad for
a semester and only 6 percent do so for a full year.

"The study says to me the biggest challenge we face is not figuring out
how many more people can go to X, Y, and Z countries, but how many more
Americans are prepared to have a deeper experience," said Allen E.
Goodman, the institute's president. Mr. Goodman said he recognized the
obstacles students face in choosing longer-term study. The longer programs
clearly cost more than shorter trips and may not provide the necessary
credits students need to graduate on time. But, he argues, universities
here and abroad could solve some problems through aligning their degree
requirements and figuring out how to make such exchanges affordable.

"The reality is, in Europe, you're not paying much tuition. Nor are you in
India or China," he said. He also questioned how many more students can be
absorbed into short-term, faculty-led trips: "If you want 500,000 students
studying abroad, I don't know where you're going to find the 5,000 faculty
to take them." The institute's report notes that a number of countries,
such as Australia, have developed national policies designed to bring in
more foreign students but that those policies are geared toward
degree-seeking students. That could limit a university's ability to adapt
to Americans' interest in shorter stays.

Growth Areas

The institute also asked universities to describe the ways in which they
wanted to recruit more foreign students. About 80 percent were most
interested in exchange agreements, and 75 percent considered degree
programs as a strong growth area. Only 45 percent saw nondegree study as
having potential for expansion. As for why these universities want
American students in particular, prestige seems to be a big factor. About
65 percent of institutions were hoping to use those arrangements to
increase research and other academic partnerships with American
institutions or to become globally competitive.  About 40 percent said
they wanted the tuition revenue. And 80 percent mentioned the broader
interest in having Americans interact with their students.

Asked what limits their ability to absorb more American students, 32
percent mentioned space constraints, 30 percent said they offered only a
limited number of courses in English, and 27 percent said that American
students did not have the language skills necessary to attend their


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