American lack of foreign knowledge 'dangerous'

December 2, 2005

A new report shows that US students' knowledge of other nations is "weak and increasingly dangerous" and urges more international educational and foreign-language requirements in lower grades and in higher education.

The study, States Prepare for the Global Age , says US students "lack sufficient knowledge about other world regions, languages, and cultures, and are in danger of being educationally and economically handicapped in an increasingly interconnected and global economy".

This is despite a record high in the number of US students studying abroad, up almost 10 per cent over the past year, according to a report from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

Although the UK continues to be the top destination (up 2 per cent), there is growing interest in less traditional destinations such as China, where the number rose 90 per cent to nearly 5,000. Of the six destinations with double-digit increases in US enrolment, all but one - Italy - were outside Western Europe.

Just short of 200,000 Americans study abroad, up about 20 per cent over the past five years. The rise reflects US universities' growing awareness that "increasing the global competence among the next generation is a national priority and an academic responsibility", said Allan E. Goodman, the institute's president.

International students contribute some $13.3 billion dollars (£7.7 billion) a year to the US economy, the US Department of Commerce said, and one in five jobs in the country is now tied to international trade. US trade with Asia alone totals more than $800 billion a year.

Yet schools and universities are doing little to meet the resulting demand for Asian language speakers, particularly Chinese, according to the IIE report, which precedes a national conference in Washington to tackle the gap between the growing importance of the world in general and Asia in particular, and students' limited knowledge of the issue.

Organisers are to propose that 5 per cent of all US students learn Chinese, which is currently studied by fewer than 40,000. The conference will involve policymakers, business leaders and educators.

Meanwhile, the number of international students heading for the US continues to decline, despite government reassurances on visa restrictions and aggressive recruiting by universities.

Recruitment had begun to stem the tide, practically halving the decline to 1 per cent or 565,039, Dr Goodman said. "We need to continue these concerted efforts to get the word out that our doors are open to international students."

The numbers of students from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America fell. Only the number of Asian students rose slightly.

Government officials responded by all but pleading for international students to travel to the US to study.

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