Sunday, August 24, 2003


The Homeland Security mania in the United States is cutting down on the number of students from abroad trained here, on the number of scientists and engineers involved in exchanges here, and in the participation of foreign faculty in U.S. schools.

Beware Students,” an article in the current Economist magazine, discusses a part of the problem. While last year nearly 583,000 foreigners were enrolled in American universities and colleges, this year the new visa policies, involving interviews with consular officers, are delaying many legitimate student visas.

By the way, there is a website developed by the U.S. National Academies that should be of help to those seeking U.S. visas for educational or scientific travel.

The article mentions the “unfunded mandate” that federal legislation has created requiring institutions of higher education to provide data to government computers on all foreign students in their programs. This too is slowing the admissions processes.

I was amazed to read that 77,000 U.S. organizations had accepted at least one foreign student in the last 20 years. As I recall there are 3,500 or 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, implying that a lot of people are coming to other kinds of institutions. Certainly there are a lot of great technical training centers here that provide education best found in the United States (such as those working with the United States Telecommunications Training Institute).

Still one wonders how many people from poor countries are coming to the United States for training as barbers, beauticians, and cooks. Is all this training really a good way for developing nations to spend their scarce foreign exchange?

The U.S. homeland security policy is clearly “penny wise and pound foolish”. That is, it is making decisions that offer small, short-term advantages, but sacrifice long term goal achievement. Certainly sharing knowledge with other nations is a great way to contribute to their growth and development, and to reduce the pressures that lead to terrorism. While a few professionally trained people have become terrorists, the millions of people from abroad who have studied in the United States include the strongest foreign supporters of the United States, and many leaders in the counter-terrorism movement.

Annoying future leaders and excluding them from educational opportunities in the United States does not seem to me like a good anti-terrorism policy in the long run.

Unfortunately, not enough U.S. students study abroad as part of their education, and only a small portion of those who do go abroad study in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America or the Mid East. (It is also the case that language training is inadequate, as are the courses in the social sciences in preparing American kids to deal with the world.) The large numbers of foreign students in many U.S. colleges and universities has helped to make up for the lack of international experience, and it may be that American kids will be the biggest losers from the reduction of foreign students in the U.S.

One suggestion I would make, as I have done before, is that U.S. colleges and universities make much more use of distance education, both to provide educational services to those in other countries and to allow educators in other countries to teach American kids. I think it is especially important that distance education tools be used to improve educational exchanges with developing nations. Not only is the tool more affordable, but it makes up for the visa problems.

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