US insularity is a 'liability'

November 28, 2003

Americans' lack of knowledge about the world is a "national liability" in the war on terrorism, according to an association of US foreign-study directors.

The Association of International Educators says in a report that a massive federal programme is needed to triple the number of students who travel overseas. It calls for the government to underwrite $7,000 (£4,100) fellowships for 500,000 university students to study in a developing nation for at least a summer or a semester.

Only about 160,000 US university students study abroad, representing slightly more than 1 per cent of all students. Two-thirds of these go to western Europe, perpetuating what the report calls a "stubborn monolingualism and ignorance of the world".

Former senator Paul Simon, who co-chairs the committee that produced the report, said: "In ten years, we would have 5 million Americans who had studied abroad, making us more understanding of the rest of the world and less likely to commit international blunders."

The plan would cost $3.5 billion a year, but "the payoff to the nation in international trade alone would more than compensate for the cost", Mr Simon said.

The report encourages more direct interaction with developing nations: "At a time of serious foreign policy challenges and increasing globalisation in all areas of life, there is an urgent need for more Americans with international skills and knowledge."

More US students must "devote a substantive portion of their education to gaining an understanding of other countries, regions, languages and cultures, through direct personal experience".

But the proposal will have to compete with demands for more federal domestic tuition assistance and other drains on a treasury already taxed by war abroad and rising domestic security costs.

The results of the Open Doors report may make the task harder. The survey, conducted for the State Department by the International Institute of Education, noted a 4.4 per cent rise in US students abroad in 2001-02, a slip from the previous year's growth of 7.4 per cent. It says this is a "strong indicator of the tremendous interest in study abroad".

Patricia Harrison, assistant secretary for educational and cultural affairs at the State Department, said: "We are gratified by the continuing increase in the number of US students studying abroad. It shows American students continue to recognise that preparation for success in a global future needs to include overseas study."


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