Death forces exchange debate

October 20, 2000

In the wake of the shooting of an American student during an overseas exchange programme, the United States Congress is considering legislation requiring universities to monitor more closely the safety of students who study abroad.

Universities are lobbying against the measure, but parents and lawmakers say the killing in March of Antioch College undergraduate Emily Howell while she was studying in Costa Rica highlights the need for closer monitoring.

Congressman Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the congressional committee on education, said: "Such tragedies are far from the norm, but they force us to focus our attention on a rapidly growing and unstructured field that lacks uniform standards for safety."

More than 100,000 Americans study abroad each year and the United Kingdom is the largest single destination for exchanges. But universities have also sent students to 16 countries that the State Department had warned Americans to avoid, and to 11 nations where even the Peace Corps had withdrawn for safety reasons.

Parents of students who have been killed or injured blame, in part, their children's universities for refusing to accept responsibility.

John Amato, whose daughter died in a bus accident in India while attending a University of Pittsburgh travel programme, said: "The task of assuring safety in study-abroad programmes is more difficult than assuring safety on campus. The conduct of many sponsors indicates that they have failed to realise these facts."

Mr Amato said that his daughter was travelling at night on a road known to be dangerous. He said chaperones assigned to the trip by the university had "no common sense".

University study-abroad officials, responding to the congressional scrutiny, said they preferred to police themselves. They plan a national conference on the issue at Michigan State University next autumn.

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