US universities losing international students, looking for more

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The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released a study indicating that foreign-born students are signing up for university studies in countries other than the United States. In 2004, 22% of university students in the U.S. were foreign-born, while 25% were foreign-born only two years before that.

The drop in U.S. market share has been matched by a 41 percent rise in the number of foreign students who enrolled in institutions elsewhere in the world. During this past summer, there have been numerous reports of U.S. universities seeking more students to fill their international student quotas. In some cases, universities are offering incentives, such as tuition waivers and additional housing assistance.

The OECD said that the "significant drop" in the proportion of foreign students going to the United States is partly due to tighter visa rules following 2001 terror attacks and country's passive approach in attracting them. Paralleling the decline in U.S. market share, countries like New Zealand, France and South Africa are attracting more foreign students by building up their own universities.

These countries have seen a more than one per cent rise in their foreign student population in the past four years, according to OECD's annual Education at a Glance survey. Several of the OECD's 30 member nations have also recently softened their immigration policies to encourage the influx of temporary or permanent international students.

"Worldwide competition for highly skilled workers is strong, and international students are increasingly regarded as a source of highly skilled immigrants by some OECD countries," the report said.

Despite the declining numbers, the United States still remains the top destination for education seekers with highest absolute number of overseas students. The United States, together with the United Kingdom, Germany and France attracted just over half of all foreign students pursuing their studies abroad in 2004.

Asian students comprise the largest group studying abroad, making up 45 percent of international students in OECD countries, with Chinese students accounting for 15 percent of this total. Australia was found to have the highest proportion of foreign students enrolling at its universities at almost 17 percent, followed by the United Kingdom at 13.4 percent and Switzerland at 12.7 percent.

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