Tuesday, September 13, 2005
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Is the U.S. losing out on foreign students?
Jon Boone writes in the Financial Times that the United States and United Kingdom have competitors in the global marketplace for university education:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... maybe the decline in foreign student enrollment is because the American academy in general -- and the University of Chicago in particular -- is staffed by nutjobs.posted by Dan on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM
Before people start screaming about post-9/11 visa restriciotns, I would be curious to know what (if any) policies have been recently implemented in Japan, New Zealand, Australia to account for this rise.
Or maybe it simply is the policymaker's worst nightmare: that it is simply a demographic change (I suspect an increase in the number of Asian students studying abroad and choosing to stay in the same hemisphere) and there is nobody to blame.
And on the bright side, it's nice to know that these students are still going to US-friendly countries instead of, say, Venezuela or China...posted by: John Kneeland on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
"Before people start screaming about post-9/11 visa restrictions"
The trend started immediately after 9/11, and has continued since then so I'd say it's related. It's more pronounced in the lucrative private market (language schools, short-term training, etc.). Other countries have welcomed foreign students and many have dropped all visa requirements for short-term study since then.
Also, even if the governments of Australia/Japan/NZ are not enemies of the US, the students are going to be exposed to the campuses, which are not places that are friendly to current US policy.posted by: Al Wheeler on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Are US university campuses are?posted by: Chris on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
As a recent student and one who is putting three US-born students through college now, I really have no problem with this decline. I have been convinced (though I cannot prove it) that foreign-born students have an advantage in admissions and also in grants. To some degree, this is not surprising, since a state college is likely to charge higher tuition for non-resident students. Still, it is distressing for US citizens.posted by: Frank H on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
I spent 13 years working at a mid-size midwestern university. It appears that most of the decrease has been from largely Muslim countries, and I can tell you that, although those students worked hard, they were hardly the best and brightest, simply because they had too many political and cultural barriers cemented into place that they were unwilling or unable to breach.
As for foreign-born students being given preferential access to assistantships and scholarships, a lot of that is true. Some of it was because of the high number of foreign-born faculty, and some of it was because foreign-born students will accept bullying and excessive work hours without question, while native students generally don't.
Looks like a productive reorganization of International Trade (in education) to me.
1) The great advances in tech, science, and medicine of tomorrow WON'T be coming from Arabs and Africans. That's un-PC, but we all know it's quite true. So there is an opportunity cost to providing them with the finest education (ie, US-provided) in place of a Chinese or Indian who is, lets face it, far more likely to accomplish something great and productive. I'll trade "Gulf State" students for Chinese or Indian any day of the week.
2) I'd say US can't expect to maintain its market share forever. We've been dominating this particular market overmuch; its unavoidable that other countries will pick up the slack as their economies advance and their educational product improves to become viable alternatives.posted by: Supercat on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
"because foreign-born students
You mean that the far left wing
Surely not. They couldn't
You really mean the US professorate
hmmm ... I wonder if that acccounts
Is it any wonder that academics
They do show up often in the MSM
"I have been convinced (though I cannot prove it) that foreign-born students have an advantage in admissions and also in grants."
This is probably true--at least in the admissions part. My friend from Lithuania got into Harvard with a 1340 SAT. I had a 1580 and the best I could do was Chicago and Penn.posted by: John Kneeland on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
And Al Wheeler, one could hardly say the American campuses are "friendly to US policy."posted by: John Kneeland on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Much ado about nothing.
In a (mostly) free global economy, where technological advances take place is irrelevant. It makes no difference whether [insert technological advance] is made by a grad student at Oxford or MIT. Americans will get the same benefits of the new technology.
The only exception is if bright students stop going to democratic countries and start going to China or Iran. But as long as bright students are in any liberal democracy, all liberal democracies will get the benefit of their work.posted by: AK on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
I wouldn't deny that there are some (generally not too selective) private colleges that spend a great deal of time recruiting students abroad, but for the most part I don't think that holds for state schools.
I disagree. Firstly, foreign born students are not eligible for any need based aid, and are often not eligible for many scholarships. At the undergraduate level, financial assistance is almost unheard of. At the graduate level, assistantships are more widely available (although I still dispute that foreign students get any sort of preference for full scholarships). For assistantships, its a different matter and faculty members can indulge their preferences. But they can go both ways -- there is one very famous faculty member at UC Berkeley who has infamous for never having foreign born students.
On the notion that foreign students get preferential access to admissions or scholarships. As a former foreign student myself, for the large part that isposted by: erg on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Actually, with the faculty members I'm familiar with (largely in business and engineering), it tends to be composed (especially those seeking tenure) of workaholics who themselves worked very hard during grad school and thus are willing to drive their students hard. its the same attitude that leads established doctors to dismiss the possibility of overwork of med students or interns or lawyers to drive their associates to hard work. Its a rite of passage into that profession, in other words.
But hey, lets not let facts get in the way of a poliical rant.
My wife is a PhD scientist in the life sciences. Her speciality is pharm. drug research--supposedly a "hot area." Despite a very well regarded university ph.d., six published first author papers, excellent public speaking and interpersonal skills, and a good post-doc position, her career is essentially stalled out. No one offers her any job except another 30-40K job as a post doc or similar no-future job. As she enters her mid-thirties, she is paid less cash (and much less total comp once you consider benefits) than her sister who delivers mail and barely graduated from high school.
Fortunately for my wife, I earn a high income, so she hasn't lived in abject poverty for the last NINE (!) years as she pursued graduate school and a post doc job in science. If my wife had gone to b-school or law school, she'd be treated far better. (I know, because my much less talented law school classmates are so treated. Me included.)
When people moan about the loss of foreign students, I wonder if they aren't really moaning about the loss of the last suckers. I would tell anyone considering a doctoral program in the sciences to forget it. It is a loser's game when you consider opportunity costs and the pain and suffering.
(Oh, and the universities are almost entirely to blame, but that is fodder for another post on another day.)posted by: PHD spouse on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
"its the same attitude that leads established doctors to dismiss the possibility of overwork of med students or interns or lawyers to drive their associates to hard work. Its a rite of passage into that profession, in other words."
No, it is about money, not rites of passage. The medical industry and law firms make money off the younger folks working long hours. And the way things are structured, the more hours worked, the more money is made by those demanding the hours.
The "rite of passage" concept you describe suggests an end to the initiation. At some point, the demands lessen and you are part of the professional club.
But the "professions" don't exist anymore. Law and medicine are businesses, through and through.
"I would tell anyone considering a doctoral program in the sciences to forget it. It is a loser's game when you consider opportunity costs and the pain and suffering."
Add engineering to that, too. For EE it's really just the MS level that matters. In fact, I've been discriminated against because I have the Ph.D. as "probably being too blue sky." That's funny, as I've had a uninterrupted run of sucessful products for the last decade, but many guys think Ph.D.'s are too impractical to do real work.
The reality of all this is that the US is dumbing itself down. It's really not worth doing all the hard work and expense of grad school when you can do as well driving a long haul truck or being a plumber.posted by: nerdbert on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
I'm sure you've heard academicians go on and on at one point or another about how evil corporations abuse immigrants on H3B visas. Now I've been in the corporate world for the last 6 years, and never seen a wiff of that there.
However, one of the most dispicable examples of it I've ever seen was in academia. I was a graduate student, and had been keeping the departmental computers running while they tried to get a new sysadmin (the previous one having left). Unfortunately, they were offering only 50% of the going rate for a junior sysadmin, and needed someone with 7 years experience to justify even that salary to HR. So they literally went and found one in Siberia. Even he was not willing to stoop to that wage, until they offered to sponsor his green card. I actually heard one of the members of the computing committee, going on effusively to another, how this was fantastic, because it would take 5 years for his green card to go through during which time he *couldn't* leave without loosing his place in the green card line. Basically they had a bonded Siberian sysadmin for 5 years at more than 50% of the going rate!
I was disgusted. Totally disgusted. In business my experience has been that immigrants are treated well.posted by: quadrupole on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
_In a (mostly) free global economy, where technological advances take place is irrelevant. It makes no difference whether [insert technological advance] is made by a grad student at Oxford or MIT. Americans will get the same benefits of the new technology._
Great point AK. Good counter to this annoying meme catching on in the MSM that, because China and India are finally rising out of dire poverty and producing engineers, that that unqualified good thing somehow translates into a lower standard of living for us due to the canard of "lobal competitiveness".posted by: Supercat on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
way back in the '90s when I lived in taiwan there were more taiwanese looking to go and actually going to places other than the u.s. for study or immigration. the opportunities that became known to them increased overtime (if you are msm type reading this, sorry for putting such a difficult concept into this reply). also, taiwanese who had received graduate eduation in the u.s. or elsewhere were returning to taiwan due to the improved economic/career opportunities ... high tech, china market, etc. (oh sorry again any msm readers ... another difficult concept here!).
as far as changes going on, just ask home: "DOH!"posted by: bdb on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
The comments have wandered a bit but I suppose this is totally appropriate for a site that encourages free thinking. I would suggest that the decline of foreign enrollment in US institutions of higher learning is directly related to the deal they got elsewhere. People act in their self interest.posted by: Seth on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Michael Moore made a documentary several years ago, I forget which one it was, about how auto workers around Detroit were being pushed out of their jobs by foreign competition. He evidently expected that by showing them on screen he could generate sympathy for their plight.
Instead, in my case, as a former economist, what he generated was amazement that anyone could believe for a moment that there is any way these flabby, slow-moving, ill-educated, self-absorbed people with bad attitudes, could be competitive in today's world economy. Clueless was the only way to describe their state of knowledge regarding where the bar now is on a global basis.
As I look at US academics and their institutions today I'm getting a rather similar impression.
It's a good thing for humanity that China and India are lifting themselves out of poverty. A rising tide lifts all boats.
However, leaky, overloaded, badly run boats will fare relatively poorly in a rising tide. Are the USA's overseas competitors catching up or will they take a clear lead? The Japanese had such a lead in the 1980s; they lost it in large part due to overleveraging and cronyism. I'm concerned whether the quality of American graduates is keeping pace with their foreign counterparts. (By American graduates, I mean people who will work in the USA.)
Having worked with engineers, I tend to agree with nerdbert. It makes little economic sense for a smart American to pursue advanced graduate study in engineering, even though such skills are crucial to the national future. Unless the US manages to create marketable value without such skills (how?), something akin to a tragedy of the commons could be unfolding.posted by: gs on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
"The "rite of passage" concept you describe suggests an end to the initiation. At some point, the demands lessen and you are part of the professional club."
Yes, and that happens for doctors after internship, for faculty members after tenure, for lawyers after partnership. Many will probably still work hard at that point because they are built that way, but its not absolutely necessary as it is before.posted by: erg on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
This is to the person who said, "The great advances in tech, science, and medicine of tomorrow WON'T be coming from Arabs and Africans."
Baloney. I can't speak for the "Arab" part, but all the greatest engineers, scientists, and doctors in Africa are coming to the United States. What's more, they're never going back.
Japanese immigrants can sniff the air and say, "Well, America is nice and all, but nothing compares to the view of Mt. Fuji from Hara."
What Zimbabwean is going to say, "Ahh, America is a fine country, but I miss those spectacular fires at night made by the soldiers burning the farms of their political opponents."
Certainly the return of immigrants to their home countries is a sign of growing world stability, which carries with it the relative decline of American power -- relative to the rising tide of democracy, which is the outcome we ultimately want.
However, where there is instability the United States still gains huge benefits from immigration, and right now Africa is a major source.
I work in the tech field and have met lots of immigrants. The only ones who express absolutely no desire to ever see their home country again are Africans.
The most popular word to describe being an American, pegging the curve at a whopping 100% of every African immigrant I've ever known, is "lucky".
In generations past that fervent patriotism came from Russia, China, and Cuba, as refugees from Communist oppression unreservedly threw themselves into the American Dream. Today the "Passion of Ayn Rand" is coming from Africa.
People with that kind of attitude tend to excel, and I can personally attest to the professional excellence of every single African immigrant I've ever met. Of course they're all doctors, scientists and engineers, but that's part of the point, isn't it?posted by: Laika's Last Woof on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Props to AK, 'In a (mostly) free global economy, where technological advances take place is irrelevant. It makes no difference whether [insert technological advance] is made by a grad student at Oxford or MIT. Americans will get the same benefits of the new technology.'
We live in a global economy, anything that enhances productivity anywhere is a net benefit to all of us. Talking about just the U.S. economy is a waste of breath. Writing books about it is just more dead trees.posted by: Tom Kelly on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
PHD spouse, some numbers FYI...
Average age of a PhD recipient in the life sciences: 31 (this number has actually declined a bit, recently)
Average age of a life sciences postdoc: 35
Average age of a first-time NIH grant recipient: 42 for PhDs, 44 for MDs
I'm actually now in a job I enjoy, but as you say, the opportunity cost and the wretched lifestyle simply make it impossible for me to encourage new students to go into science.
Also, regarding the "rite of passage" bit, it's worth noting that residents and associates are hazed for a short, fixed period (after a school term that's also short and fixed), which they can suck up and reasonably expect to succeed in, and after which they're pretty much guaranteed at least a decent living. There's no comparison to spending your 20's and 30's as a serf to professors who can effectively hold your career hostage, and a quite significant chance of winding up with nothing.posted by: JSinger on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
To Laika's Last Wolf -- Today the "Passion of Ayn Rand" is coming from Africa.
Point well made, I bow to your passion & experience. I'll concede I've heard many good things about professional African immigrants. Would love to see them make headlines of their own as innovators & entrepreneurs, etc.posted by: Supercat on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Well, foreign students do work harder. In my experience, they are noticeably likelier to complete their homework assignments, for example, and do interesting projects and research.
While there are certainly hard-working US students, and foreign students who shouldn't've been admitted (note: the Lithuanian probably had better something else), generally, my experience has been that the foreign students were likelier to be better academically.
The reason there are so many of them in local universities, taking spots, is actualy usually because mostly they far beat out local applicants. You see alot in lower-rank places as well, because that's often the only way the school can competently fill all the teaching assistantships. If you think it's hard dealing with a TA with an accent, imagine dealing with a TA who doesn't care about the subject matter or the job, and maybe even is irregular about office hours.
As some above posts suggest, US students are rarely enthusiastic about higher educationd, for a variety of reasons. The foreign students who make it in generally are.
These rare people who actually WANT to get Ph.Ds do contribute elsewhere than teaching assistantships: they fill high-tech jobs and do at least half the R&D that made things like this blog possible.
And now I'll get to the screaming-about-post-9/11 phase of my remarks. The data here seems pretty clear to me. It's always been very time-consuming and difficult to deal with the INS. But we've done something worse. By making academic visas TAKE A LONG TIME, often LONGER THAN the six months between acceptance and start of school, we've made it logistically impossible for many foreign students to attend. It used to be OK to just come and fix the paperwork later, but INS is no longer allowing that.
Initial drops were due simply to this problem, but now we're seen increasingly in a bad light. Why go through all the effort with INS just to be bounced at the border?
In a related vein, lengthened visa times also make it hard for foreign presenters to present papers here, because it takes longer to get the appropriate visa than the several-month delay between paper acceptance and presentation. It won't be long before we see conferences fleeing the US. Right now, in many fields, many/most conferences are held here. That's a big advantage for us, because more domestic researchers and students can afford to fly out to those conferences.
As someone who recently (May 05) graduated with a master's in engineering from a state school, I have experienced some of things you are talking about. I went to the same school for BS and MS (8 years with work in between). I saw how many grad students were foreign born before 9/11 and it is true, less joined afterwards. But the biggest change was that the faculty and staff had to go out and recruit students from the Undergrad program to fill the need and you know what happened, the number of new native born students tripled. I agree that foreign students will put up with things I would not put up with. It is also that faculty do not want to have to deal with any thing extra so if a student comes to them and ask for work it is easier then recruiting.
I don't agree that foreign born are smarter, but I have seen a lot the "best and brightest" change majors so they could make more money after school.
After sputnik America was embarrassed and people went into engineering and the sciences. I think it is going to take something like that to wake us up.
The other thing that is really wrong with American business right now that has lead to a reduction in technical people is that most business managers are technically illiterate. This leads to boneheaded ideas. If more Techies moved into management things would be better.
That's my three cents.
Total number of international students studying in the US for academic years
The total for the latest report (2004) include a decrease in the number of foreign undergraduates but an increase in foreign graduate students.
from the Institute of International Educationposted by: eudoxis on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Did they calculate the
That will change the percentage dramatically.posted by: james on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Thanks, Supercat, that's very gracious of you.
I do agree with your fundamental premise that attitude is the strongest determinant of success or failure.posted by: Laika's Last Woof on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
"Also, regarding the "rite of passage" bit, it's worth noting that ... associates are hazed for a short, fixed period (after a school term that's also short and fixed), which they can suck up and reasonably expect to succeed in, and after which they're pretty much guaranteed at least a decent living."
Guaranteed? Short period of time? Reasonably expect to succeed in? Interesting viewpoint.
My ten years in that profession (both in a large city and now a smaller one) and my interaction with top tier law school colleagues practicing in large law firm settings gave me a very different impression of my chosen profession than the one you present. Perhaps my experiences and those of my close friends in Chicago, Boston, New York and SF are atypical, as we represent only those who went to work for large urban law firms. I'm under the impression, though, that your experience with law as a job is at least as circumscribed as mine. In sum, your description sounds nothing like the profession I know. You describe a nice place to work, though. Where can I find that job? ;)posted by: PHD Spouse on 09.13.05 at 05:18 PM [permalink]
Glad to see those numbers, eudoxis.
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