Campus chiefs to fight US insularity

February 22, 2002

US higher education leaders believe overcoming campus parochialism should be their chief post-September 11 imperative.

Delegates to the annual conference of the American Council on Education conference in San Francisco last week said the terrorist strikes and war in Afghanistan made tackling the insularity gripping US universities an even more pressing concern.

"There is an enormous impetus towards figuring out how to make universities more international," David Ward, president of the ACE, which represents US higher education interests, said.

University representatives singled out a long-standing malaise in language education as an immediate priority and in particular a shortfall of speakers in languages such as Arabic, which are needed for intelligence purposes.

The portion of US undergraduates studying languages has stayed constant at just 8 per cent during the past 20 years, according to the Modern Language Association.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Spanish - already spoken as a native tongue by 12 per cent of the US population - is squeezing out politically critical languages, delegates said. "Spanish is not a foreign language - it should be everyone's second language," said David Maxwell, president of Drake University.

Language classes are often too academic, geared towards equipping students to study scholastic texts rather than giving them practical speaking skills, Mr Maxwell added.

Alongside language teaching deficiencies, delegates highlighted relatively scant international study opportunities for US students. While America admits more than 500,000 international students annually, just 143,000 of its own 15 million students study abroad each year.

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