Students eager to study in US but put off by high costs

In what was perceived by local media as a “charm offensive”, the United States embassy in Algiers last month hosted the first higher education exhibition in the Algerian capital in an attempt to woo what appeared to be very eager students to the United States.

The exhibition, held in the Palace of Culture, was followed by workshops run by representatives of dozens of public and private US universities who provided information about curriculum, registration requirements and advice on the process of enrolment, success in TOEFL and IELTS tests, and funding for studies.

Although a substantial venue, the Palace of Culture proved to be almost inadequate to contain the several hundred people who turned up for the exhibition.

This is despite US President Donald Trump’s controversial attempts to issue a travel ban against several mostly-Muslim countries, including Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Iraq, with the latter having been removed in the revised executive order.

Enthusiastic response

Malia Saidi, a student in biology from the University of Oran, travelled 400 kilometres to attend the event.

“I arrived this morning after seeing the event on social networks. I did not see myself missing such an opportunity. I always wanted to pursue my studies in an English-speaking country,” she said. “For me, language is not an obstacle … coming back with skills is a plus in my career.”

Others were frustrated by the fact that the exhibition was limited to only one day.

“I regret that the exhibition was held for a single day. I had dozens of questions but I did not have the time to ask all of them,” said Rachid Amara, a candidate for the national baccalaureate, the examination taken by school leavers to qualify them for higher education and which starts in Algeria on 11 June.

Amel Benaissa, another candidate for the national baccalaureate examination, said she was inspired by the idea of studying in the United States.

“I must absolutely get my baccalaureate this year; it encourages me to study in an American campus,” she said.

US versus Europe

Another baccalaureate candidate, Ali Tahari, who said his parents were willing to finance his studies, said the US system was more flexible than the European one.

“This is a priority for my parents, because my father studied architecture in the United States,” he said.

According to US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Ana Escrogima, Europe has traditionally been a first choice for Algerians wishing to study abroad owing to “obvious reasons” like proximity and similarity of educational systems. She said currently there are fewer than 300 Algerian students studying in the US out of a total of around 1 million foreign students.

“But, we want to increase their number and this exhibition is a good start,” she said.

Such optimism about the US could be construed as being at odds with the messages from the Trump presidency. However, Escrogima said the president’s actions did not seem to have affected the US image in the eyes of students or parents.

“Even with changes in administration, international students are still welcome in the United States,” she said. “Our programmes are ongoing and we are still recruiting for the Fulbright programme. This remains a constant of our educational policy regardless of the US president’s declarations,” she said.

Karen Bauer, coordinator for the Middle East and North African region of Education USA, was at pains to stress the welcoming environment students would receive within US universities. “The latter want international students and many of them Algerian students. There is a huge campaign in American universities to attract more students,” she said.


But what about cost?

“If Trump’s decision to ban Muslims is not an obstacle, the high cost of studies is truly a handicap,” said Jamel Ghazi, a student in ICT at the University of Sciences and Technology Houari Boumediene in Algiers.

Interested in resuming his studies at Kansas State University, Ghazi was disappointed to learn that the scholarship offered by the university covered only US$5,000 of the US$30,000 required annually.

However, the representative of Kansas State University said compared to other universities the institution was not expensive and living costs were relatively lower in the middle of the country where the university was situated.

Students interested in studying at the Qatari campus of the prestigious Georgetown University were similarly shocked to discover that the cost of studying in Doha for a year was nearly US$63,000. However, the representative of the university said there were many programmes in place to reduce costs and make costs more manageable.

Nacéra Mesbah, an Algerian university teacher, said: “For some students, studies in the US often are linked with exorbitant cost, but the US embassy initiative has shown that there are opportunities for Algerian students … I think the system of European countries is running out of steam. It's time to open up to something else and the US appears to be the right destination.”

Institutions represented at the event included Arkansas Tech University, DePaul University, Georgetown University in Qatar, Kansas State University, Kent State University, New York University in Abu Dhabi, Northern Illinois University, Savannah College of Art and Design, Siena College, Shoreline Community College, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Valencia College.