A federal report based on a survey of US diplomats in 140 countries has identified red tape as an obstacle to US institutions that want to provide higher education abroad.
But the survey, meant to gauge the climate for potentially profitable joint education ventures and other such arrangements, also suggests that there is substantial opportunity for the "export" of US education, which is considered to lag behind that of competing nations including Canada and the United Kingdom.
"Contrary to previous impressions, nearly all countries allow private education to exist side by side with public education," the report says. And "while some countries limit recognition of US degrees and credits based on national policies that assume our education system lacks equivalent standards or quality, in many countries US education is highly regarded".
US education is in particular demand in disciplines including management, information technology and language, the diplomats reported. Still, they found significant obstacles. Some countries require parliamentary approval for foreign education institutions to do business, prohibit education in languages other than their national tongues and impose other restrictive regulations on foreign educators.
In some cases, foreign entities are restricted to a minority share of a joint venture, or are allowed to provide services only to resident non-nationals. Using the title "university" is regulated by law in Australia and South Africa. Bulgaria, China, Ireland and other countries limit the number of foreign educational programmes, while Turkey and Italy restrict foreign providers to teaching only resident foreigners. In Indonesia, no more than half of any academic programme can be conducted in a foreign language.
The report, conducted jointly by the US departments of commerce, education, labour and state, recommended studying how the UK, Canada and other countries successfully promote the export of their educational institutions to "shed more light on the value of the international market and provide a basis for comparison with US efforts to seek and maintain open markets in this field".