Foreign colleges compete for students U.S. universities lose degree of dominance


American colleges and universities, long the world leaders in attracting international students, are seeing the decline of their dominance, government analysts and education officials reported at a conference in Washington.

Moving vigorously into the competition for international students are Australia, Canada, Latin America, New Zealand and members of the European Union, according to the Institute of International Education.

"I won't say we've lost our competitive edge, but we can no longer take things for granted," said Joseph Duffey, director of the U.S. Information Agency, which, with the Educational Testing Service, sponsored the conference at the State Department on Thursday.

The United States is still by far the most popular destination for foreign students, attracting about 458,000 in the 1996-1997 academic year, the USIA said. Next was France, which drew about 170,000 foreign students, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The number of foreign students studying in the United States increased steadily after World War II, but has been flat since 1993, speakers at the conference said.

As the number of students studying elsewhere has risen, the United States' share has shrunk. Five years ago, about 40 percent of students studying outside their own countries came to the United States. Today, only 32 percent do, according to the USIA.

The decline was attributed to the relatively high cost of U.S. colleges and universities and to vigorous recruiting in recent years by colleges in other countries.

Since 1990, the number of international students attending Australian colleges and universities has increased tenfold.

Keith Geiger, director of academic programs for the USIA, said, "Australian universities are much cheaper than their counterparts the United States, and they are a whole lot closer to home for people in Southeast Asia, which is the largest provider of international students."

Of the 10 countries sending the most students to the United States, Canada is the only one outside of Asia. The U.S. decrease cannot be explained by Asia's economic crisis; the decrease began five years ago.

Conference participant Stephen Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University in Washington, called the leveling off of foreign students at U.S. schools "the sincerest form of flattery."

"What's happened," Trachtenberg said, "is that after many foreign students have earned degrees from American institutions, they then use their knowledge and experience to establish similar institutions in their home countries."

The way to reverse the trend, Duffey said, is "to make our institutions more user-friendly, to explore things like joint-degree programs, to see if there aren't unnecessary barriers and to explore helpful partnerships with industry and philanthropy."

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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