One obvious effect of 9/11 has been the drop in foreign student enrollments in the US. Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week that from the ’93-’94 academic year, the drop has been 2.4%. The drop is 6% in graduate students. India is one of the countries with a largest drop in graduate enrollment. I have no statistics for Pakistan but anecdotal evidence suggests the same picture. Kids who would have come to the US for undergrad or grad are going to Canada or England (matter of fact, EVERYONE is going to LSE, for some unknown reason).
Fareed Zakaria had an op-ed in WaPo yesterday, that decried this as bad for business:
Falling foreign enrollments will produce a broader but no less profound loss for the United States. America has spread its interests, ideas and values across the world by many means, but perhaps the single most effective one has been by educating the world’s elites. For example, Western ideas about the benefits of free markets and free trade have become the global standard. This may have much to do with Western foreign and trade policies. But surely this shift has been strengthened and facilitated by the fact that so many of the people in the ministries of finance, trade and industry in the developing world were educated at Western universities. The U.S. government can claim little credit for Chile’s remarkable and successful free-market revolution. But the University of Chicago — which trained most of the economists who spearheaded those reforms in Santiago — can. Foreign students return home from the United States bringing with them an appreciation for U.S. values, ideas and, indeed, for America itself.
The hegemony of ideas is often a greater and more lasting source of power than brute force. When historians write about our times, they will certainly note that America dominated the international agenda for decades through this distinctive form of power.
I care about this because I am one of those who came to the US to get educated [Got my visa at the Lahore Consulate. Got there early, around 5 in the morning, only to discover a looooong line. Got in line. They cut it off right behind me. Sultan Rahi was 2 ahead of me. Talked a while with him. Very nice guy. Around 4, I sat in front of a consulate officer who asked me something about my father and then said go sit over there ]. That day, I was one of two people who got the visa. So, getting a US Student visa has never been easy. The difference, I think, is that now it is approaching the point of impossibility. At the same time UK, Canada, Australia, EU are making themselves more and more attractive by offering English medium education and broad certification.
Some of those who came with me to the US (or those whom I met later) are back at home running multi-national companies, ngos, teaching at universities. There is an immense intellectual capital that they acquired in the States and which is now being invested in Pakistan. Goodwill and love for the US goes with it. Same, yet more dramatic, story in India where Banglore and Chennai were built by US educated tech elites.
Zakaria is absolutely right. US has to figure out how to reverse this trend. But, it is not just students that are despairing of visa policies. Even plain tourists are being rejected for unknown reasons. Zack described his family’s case. I have been urging my parent to come visit and they are very hesitant. And rightly so, it seems.
Have a stuffy T-day.