Thursday, September 09, 2004

The American dream loses its appeal for foreign students

A while back on a discussion forum (I think it was trdev), I made the point that the US will only start taking China and India seriously as major economic threats when those countries stop sending their best and brightest to US schools for their education, and start favoring their own academic institutions. Well, it's happening.

Applications to US graduate schools from people in China, India and Korea — the countries where the majority of international students come from — dropped 45%, 28% and 14% respectively from last year to this year. According to a study released by the Council of Graduate Schools and reported on in USA Today, U.S. graduate schools this year saw a 28% decline in applications from international students.

The reasons cited by those institutions surveyed included the increased difficulty in getting visas and the perception that the US is less foreigner-friendly since 9/11. They don't mention the fact that US-based high-tech careers are no longer a major draw since our knowledge industries are being offshored at an alarming rate. Or that the rapid growth in opportunities at home makes the American dream relatively less attractive than it used to be.

America is no longer the education-and-career destination of choice for many in places like China and India. Their own domestic hi-tech economies are booming while ours is deflating. And as a new affluence and international prestige sweeps across those countries, the quality and reputation of their premiere education institutions grows too.

Maybe the lack of interest from foreigners also accounts for the dramatic drop-off in applications for undergraduate engineering and sciences positions at US universities; it certainly exacerbates it. As I mentined in a post last month:
India keeps graduating more technical people than the US, so the “economic discontinuities” are likely to be around for a while. US enrollments in computer science degree programs are apparently down 30-40 percent on 1999. A June 19 article in the LA Times said computer science enrollments at MIT dropped 44% from 1999 to 2003. "The decline has hit just about every type of school. At UC Berkeley, the number of students enrolling in computer science and computer engineering dropped 41% in that period. Enrollments at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta fell 45%. Nationwide, new enrollments are at 1996 levels — and few expect them to rebound soon."

This is not a temporary blip in the numbers. It is the start of a serious trend that has very bad economic implications for the US. If Americans are not pursuing careers in the sciences, and foreigners are not attracted to come here to pursue those careers, where does it leave the US knowledge economy a decade from now?

No comments: