Dollar aids student drift abroad

January 7, 2000

Britain remains by far the most popular destination for United States students doing academic work abroad and their numbers are increasing.

But several non-traditional destinations have seen even larger increases while the overall proportion of Americans studying in Europe has continued to decline.

The number of US students overseas reached a record 113,959 last year, the most recent period for which the figures are available, according to a new report by the Institute of International Education in New York. It represents an increase of 15 per cent and follows an 11 per cent jump the year before.

Nearly a quarter, or about 25,900, study in the United Kingdom, up 14 per cent. Europe in general is the most popular destination for American students.

But while 80 per cent of US students abroad went to European countries in 1985, when statistics began to be collected, now only 65 per cent do.

During the same period, the percentage going to Latin America has doubled, and numbers also were up significantly in Africa, South America, the Middle East and the Caribbean.

The number of Americans studying in China rose 30 per cent, in Ireland 31 per cent and in Australia - which has been aggressively recruiting foreign students - 13 per cent.

Experts give several explanations for the shift. They say the overall rise is due to the healthy US economy, a strong dollar and the heightened interest among US students who hope to compete in the global market.

In particular, with Spanish now the most widely studied language in the United States, more students want to immerse themselves in Spanish-speaking cultures.

There are other noteworthy trends. Americans who study abroad are doing so for shorter periods of time. Fewer than one in ten spend the entire academic year abroad. More than half study abroad for one semester or less and one-third during the summer only.

But advocates of international exchanges said there was a cloud inside the silver lining: the overall percentage of four-year undergraduates in the US who study overseas remains a relatively low 10 per cent.

"To be truly engaged in a global society, we are going to have to become more internationally focused," said IIE president Allan E. Goodman.

"Business leaders need to demonstrate loud and clear that they value this kind of international competence in their hiring and promoting of recent graduates."

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