Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Woops: What is happening here?

The Economist accompanies this chart with the following text:
Students flock to American universities from all over the world. But according to the OECD, a think-tank, over 40% of the 106,123 foreign students in the country during the 2007-08 academic year came from just three Asian countries: China, India and South Korea.
The Institute for International Education in its 2009 Open Doors report says that the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by 8% to an all-time high of 671,616 in the 2008/09 academic year.

I rather doubt that the number of foreign students increased by a factor of more than six in a year. So either the OECD number is too low, or the IIE number is too high, or both.

The IIE reports that in 2007-08 the number of foreign undergrads in the United States was 243,360 and the number of foreign graduate students was 276,842, so the OECD number is not simply one or the other reported mistakenly. (Some foreign students in colleges and universities are in non-degree programs. Of course there are also foreign students in the United States in secondary and even primary schools as well as other institutions of learning.)

I looked up the number on the OECD website, and got 595,874. This is closer to the numbers reported by the IIE, but still different.

As the debates over the U.S. Census estimates show, any count is subject to error and statistical means may be used to improve estimates of total populations by repeated sub-sampling. I suppose that the difference between the OECD and the IIE estimates may be simply such a statistical error. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding between the OECD and The Economist.

The IIE number is determined by a process used for many years which surveys U.S. colleges and universities. The OECD must be using figures provided by the U.S. government, and I don't know the process by which the government obtains its estimate.

I suppose the lesson here is not to believe everything (or anything) you read. The Economist, the OECD, and the IIE are all credible sources of information, yet The Economist value is radically different than those I found on the two other organization'sl websites.

I still feel safe in concluding that foreign students in our institutions of higher education bring a lot of money to the United States for tuition and expenses and that they contribute significantly to our higher educational system. The graduate students contribute to the research and the teaching of those institutions. And of course, large numbers of the best students from abroad remain in the United States as migrant workers and contribute to our economy in other ways after they leave school.

In another article, The Economist notes:
Migration matters. Economic growth depends on productivity, and the most productive people are often the most mobile. A quarter of America’s engineering and technology firms founded between 1995 and 2005 had an immigrant founder, according to Vivek Wadhwa of Harvard Law School. A quarter of international patent applications filed from America were the work of foreign nationals. And such measures ignore the children of immigrants. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the stepson of a man who fled Cuba at the age of 15 and arrived without even a high-school diploma.

Richard Florida, the author of such books as “The Flight of the Creative Class” and “Who’s Your City?”, argues that countries and regions and cities are engaged in a global battle for talent. The most creative people can live more or less where they want. They tend to pick places that offer not only material comfort but also the stimulation of being surrounded by other creative types.

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