US: Growth in enrolments welcomed

America is experiencing a turnaround in the number of foreign students enrolling in its higher education institutions. According to a new report, overseas student enrolments increased at more than half of 700 colleges and universities surveyed.

The survey was conducted by eight leading higher education associations and found that new enrolments of international students increased at more than half the responding member campuses. Only 19% of the institutions experienced declines in newly enrolled international students, and 26% reported that numbers stayed about the same as last year.

According to a report by the US information network, Open Doors, the online survey findings, while not comprehensive, build on last year's survey results which pointed to the beginnings of a turnaround in enrolments.

The survey also indicates that declines of previous years have worked their way through the system and that overall numbers are on the rise.

Leaders of the associations noted with relief that international student numbers appeared to be growing. They urged institutions and the government to continue working to sustain the renewed flows. 

Allan E Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, said vigorous efforts at the national, state and campus levels had combined to produce a rebounding in enrolments.

Goodman said that given increased global competition for talent, as well as expanded higher education options in many of the leading sending countries, America needed to continue its proactive steps to insure its “academic doors remain wide open and that students around the world understand that they will be warmly welcomed".

Constantine W Curris, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said there was increasing evidence that American students must attain a more global perspective if they are to live successfully in a world “in which international boundaries are no longer a factor.

“International students contribute both global awareness and cultural diversity on our college and university campuses,” Curris said. “In doing so, they are an important part of enhancing our students' education.”

More institutions reported enrolment increases than declines in the number of students from China, Korea and India. Also, more institutions noted increases for the Middle East as a region, with numbers from Saudi Arabia growing at one in four of responding institutions.

The Open Doors report says this is consistent with a new Saudi government programme that began to make scholarship awards available for their students to study abroad in 2005. But it notes that, for the second year in a row, more institutions reported declines than increases in the number of students from Japan.

More than one in five of responding institutions that experienced declines in international students cited visa application processes and concerns over delays or denials as the major reason for the fall. The cost of tuition and other fees, as well as decisions to enrol in another country's institutions, were other factors.

Also affecting the falls were increased competition among American institutions, lack of financial aid or scholarships and potential students' negative perceptions of the visa and entry process.

Sixty percent of the institutions said they had taken special steps to ensure that the number of international students on their campuses did not decline. These included new collaborations, new staff or additional staff time devoted to international recruitment, new funding for recruitment trips and more money for marketing and promotion.

Institutions that have devoted more resources for international student recruitment trips seem to have concentrated mainly on Asia, with China, Korea, and India as most popular recruitment destinations, the report says.

Details of the report on the Open Doors site