ERIC Identifier: ED464523
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Cummings, William
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.
Current Challenges of International Education. ERIC Digest.
September 11, 2001 has turned a spotlight on international education. Does
U.S. higher education have adequate expertise in Middle Eastern issues to
interpret recent events? How will foreign student enrollments in U.S.
postsecondary institutions be impacted? These are the urgent questions now being
asked by international educators. In this Digest, we will present some of the
research that bears on these issues.
THE FIELD OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
education has a somewhat unusual position in higher education. While recognized
as an important sphere of activity, it tends to be handled by administrative
offices at the top of departments of languages and literature and international
affairs. The scholars involved in international education usually have their
primary involvement in other teaching and research. This leads to four
distinctive characteristics particular to the field of international education:
There is little consensus concerning the guiding theme of the field as well as
its scope. Should the field stress internationalization, transnationalization,
or globalization (Barrows, 2000; Committee for Transnational Competence, 2000;
International education is not a prominent feature of the contemporary higher
education experience. Using enrollment in foreign languages as an indicator, 16
percent of all U.S. college students were enrolled in foreign languages in the
peak period of the 1960s; the proportion is currently down to 8 percent
(Hayward, 2000, p. 6).
There is imbalance in regional coverage. The regions and languages covered at a
particular institution are a function of idiosyncratic patterns of faculty
recruitment. Nationally, there is reasonable coverage of Western Europe and
Latin America and most European languages compared to limited coverage of Africa
and the Middle East. For students enrolled in foreign languages, Spanish is the
most popular followed by the other major languages of Western Europe; 6 percent
enroll in Asian languages. Languages of the Middle East make up only 2 percent
(1.3 being Hebrew and .5 percent Arabic). The languages of Africa constitute
only 0.15 percent of enrollments.
Because international education is not a primary concern of most scholars in the
field, research is somewhat sporadic, non-cumulative, and tends to be carried
out by national organizations as part of advocacy projects (e.g. Lambert, 1989;
Brecht and Rivers, 2000). The most recent example is the American Council of
Education's (ACE's) Internationalization of Higher Education: A Status Report.
ADVOCATES FOR INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
According to a recent
survey supported by ACE (2000), 90 percent of the U.S. adult population believe
it is important for their children or young people to have broad knowledge of
international issues and over 70 percent believe that college students should be
required to study a foreign language if they do not know one.
Top corporate executives also are reported to be very positive about
international education (Andersen, 1988), though corporate recruiters tend to
see less value in international education or foreign language skills (Hawkins
and Cummings, 2000).
THE VALUE OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
There is evidence that
international education contributes to students? intellectual and personal
development. One survey conducted in the mid-1980s found that students who
participated in study abroad programs exhibited higher knowledge levels
(Barrows, 1981). Studies also report that students who participate in study
abroad have improved language skills (Opper, Teichler, and Carlson, 1990). Other
studies indicate that students who have several years of a second language have
a better vocabulary and are more expressive and creative writers (summarized in
While studies project a future need for international knowledge in the labor
force (Bikson et al, 1995), there is little evidence that training in
international education leads to better job opportunities or income for college
graduates. Indeed, one survey of U.S. job recruiters indicates they prefer
students with domestic work experience over those with international work
experience (Van Hoot, 1999). However, Hayward (2000) reports that the proportion
of federal job announcements that indicate a preference for multilingual
recruits has increased in recent years.
SUPPORT FOR INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
In that international
education is thought both to benefit the individuals who participate in these
experiences and the nations from which they come or go, it is expected that
international education would receive both public and private support. Indeed,
public support from government and foundation sources has played a major role in
the expansion of U.S. international education during the postwar period. But
from the mid-seventies until today, the level of federal support has generally
While there are no comprehensive reports of state funding for international
education, state funding for higher education on the whole (as a proportion of
all state allocations) has decreased over the last decade (Hayward, 2000).
EMPHASIS IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
U.S. universities place
their greatest emphasis on European studies followed by a focus on Latin
American studies, and this is reflected in the choices for study abroad of
American undergraduates. On the other hand, through the 1980s, students from
Asia and the Middle East occupied first and second place among international
students coming to the U.S. (IIE, annual); since then, the Asian proportion has
steadily increased so it exceeds 50 percent of all international students, while
the flow from the Middle East has been superceded by that from Europe and Latin
America. Cummings (1991), focusing on the Asian student market, found that such
factors as the amount of U.S. technical assistance devoted to a country and the
volume of foreign investment and trade going to that country from the U.S. had a
strong influence on the likelihood that young people from that country would
seek study in the U.S.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of U.S. international education is the
virtual absence of a focus on the Middle East as well as the considerable
neglect of Asia and Africa. The major exception is a very recent upturn in study
abroad in Japan and China (Davis, 2000). The lack of a focus on these areas is
especially troubling when one considers the considerable importance of these
regions for the U.S. economy and international affairs. THE FUTURE INFLOW OF
In the wake of September 11th, some national leaders proposed stricter
controls on international students. Increased regulation may slow down the flow
of international students, though recent experience with new regulations such as
the international student tax suggests that the effect of new rules on the
volume of student inflow may not necessarily be very great.
Fear for personal safety is also perceived as a potential damper on the
inflow of international students to the U.S. Students from the Middle East may
be apprehensive about studying in the U.S. because of concern about personal
harassment. While this is a realistic concern, it should be noted that the
Middle East's share of all international students has been relatively small and
has been declining in recent years. More troubling may be the concerns of
potential students from East Asia where there is a high premium on personal
safety. When a Japanese student who mistakenly visited a California home was
shot three years ago, the story was widely publicized in the Japanese press and
had a definite short-term effect on applications.
While the current focus is primarily on fear, economic conditions have
historically had the greatest impact on international education. The drop in the
value of Asian currencies in the early 1990s led to a sharp decline in new
students from that area. The current world recession is certain to have a
significant short-term impact on foreign student enrollments. Given the
worldwide scope of the recession, there is no reason to expect particular
regional biases in this downturn.
Because international education in the U.S. has
essentially languished over the last decade, American colleges and universities
are not well-prepared to help their students understand the events associated
with September 11. New regulations may make it more difficult for Middle
Eastern, and well as other international students, to study in the U.S. However,
more salient in impact on the future flow of students to the U.S. is likely to
be the extent to which the U.S. markets its educational opportunities and the
overall state of the world economy which influences the affordability of
pursuing studies in the U.S.
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