A study shows that large numbers of students from Asian countries like India, China and South Korea come to the US for higher education when compared to the Latin American students.
Obama’s opened the doors to Latin American students – but are they coming through? A recent report from the Institute of International Education and the US State Department shows the United States is an increasingly attractive place for overseas students to visit, but that international students are coming from Asia in much greater numbers than from Latin American countries. This wouldn’t be such a problem, except Obama recently drew up an ambitious plan to boost the number of US-Latin America student exchanges to 100,000 by 2020.
The “Open Doors” report says almost 50 percent of international students came to the US from China (236,000 students), India (97,000 students) and South Korea (71,000 students). Students from the Americas and the Caribbean numbered just 67,000. Does this mean that Obama’s “100,000 Strong in the Americas’’ program is moving too slowly to meet its 2020 target? I look at the figures and see positive growth but too little to be entirely meaningful. The total number of overseas students coming to the US is rising – by 7 percent overall to 2014 – but at the annual rate of growth the number of Latin American students in the US will be only 87,000 in 2020 – a shortfall in terms of Obama’s goal, according to calculations by Andres Oppenheimer in this opinion piece.
Asian Confidence and Latin American Disbelief
So why do Asian countries have so many more students currently residing in US universities, and more on the way? Asian countries have been proactive in promoting study abroad programs, in part to meet their own agendas in terms of raising standard of living and education. The Latin American countries that send the most students to the US also have programs in place to attract students and inspire them to take the leap and make the most of opportunities for study in the US. For example, the Brazilian government recently launched a scheme for its students to get PhDs and Masters degrees abroad. Mexico sends 14,200 students, Brazil 10,700, Columbia 6,500 and Venezuela 6,200.
However, reports of scholarships and opportunities to head for the universities of the US are often greeted with disbelief on the part of Latin American students. Students look at the publicity surrounding degrees and education in the United States and think, “that’s great, but it can’t be for me.” Often students have concerns about life in the United States that prevent them from making the move – how will they afford accommodation, will they be able to work to make ends meet? The visa requirements for study in the US are often seen as too prohibitive and complex for “ordinary” students to be able to apply. Consequently, well-off students may consider study-abroad schemes but talented individuals with no financial backing believe the programs are not for them.
Financial Appeal of Study in the US
Scholarships are available but how many people know how to apply? And do Latin American governments spend as much time as Asian governments in disseminating information about US universities and publishing the rankings that show US universities are consistently ranked best in the world? Obama and his government could also do more to ensure the success of what is a valuable and worthy initiative to open borders and increase cultural exchange across the nations of the Americas. Latin American countries, despite Obama’s positive spin on study abroad, often have more pressing concerns than sending students abroad, no matter that the benefits from these exchanges may help their future competitiveness and prosperity. Argentina for example, which is ploughing its own isolationist agenda, sent only 1,800 students to the United States in 2013, according to the report. Incentives from the US, which could be offered through an expansion of private sector funding, could secure more university partnership deals and make it more financially attractive for Latin American countries to promote study abroad.
On the other side of the coin, the number of US college students going abroad to study rose by 3 percent in 2013 but only a small number of students – 16 percent of the total – went to Latin American or Caribbean universities. Most US students chose to study in the UK, Italy, France, or Spain. The most attractive countries in Latin America for US undergraduates are Costa Rica (7,900), Argentina (4,700 students), Brazil (4,000), and Mexico (3,815).
If the door’s open, it may take a little extra push for Latin American students to enter – and for US students to do the same and broaden their horizons in South America and the Caribbean.