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  • The Importance of International Students on Our Campuses
  • Kavita Pandit

International students have become a hot global commodity. Governments and institutions of higher education worldwide have begun putting in place policies and programs to draw the very brightest international students. Tony Blair, for example, announced in 2006 that he was putting in place a package of incentives to make Britain an even more attractive destination for international students. This represented the second phase of an initiative launched in 1999 to increase the number of non-European students studying in the U.K. In Australia, a governmental agency, Australian Education International, works in coordination with universities to streamline efforts to attract international students. In the U.S., the Institute of International Educators recently issued a report titled "Restoring U.S. Competitiveness for International Students and Scholars," which calls for the federal government to develop a national recruiting strategy for international students and to make far-reaching changes in the immigration regulations and visa procedures as they impact this recruitment.

There are numerous factors behind the surge of interest in international students. At the national level, there is the recognition that international students have historically played an important role in advancing America's research competitiveness in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Whereas the best American-born students have tended to gravitate to careers in business and law, the first-choice careers of their counterparts from countries such as China and India is often in engineering and the sciences. The advancement of scientific research and technology therefore has relied disproportionately on foreign-born talent. There is also a feeling that international students, having lived and studied in the United States, often become excellent ambassadors of American culture when they return to their home countries. This is seen as an important step in enhancing the image of the U.S. overseas, and by extension, U.S. security.

At the scale of universities and colleges, there has been an increasing recognition that our graduates will be competing in an international labor market and need to become comfortable in working with students from different parts of the world. The term "global competency" is often used to [End Page 156] describe this quality. Many research universities are also seeking to build their international research/knowledge capacity. International students, with their links to researchers in their home countries, serve as excellent conduits to build international scholarly networks.

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Figure 1.

Source: Open Doors (

Finally, the interest in internationalization has also come from individual departments and programs. There are very clear pedagogical benefits to having international students in the classroom. Their presence enriches class discussions as the students share their experiences and stories from a different culture. It can also help shatter stereotypes and open otherwise "taboo" discussions. For example, a number of years ago, one of the students in my class was a woman from the United Arab Emirates who wore the traditional hijab—the long tunic and head covering. Not surprisingly, she was immediately subject to the usual stereotypes students may have about Moslem women. Yet over the next few weeks, she turned out to be one of the most vocal and outspoken of the students—she was intelligent, well read, and had a keen critical eye. It was most interesting to see, over the course of the semester, her fellow students slowly revising their assumptions about her, and by extension, an entire group of people.

Our efforts to benefit through the presence of international students, however, face two important challenges. First relates to the recent decline in the attractiveness of the U.S. as a destination of internationally mobile students. Figure 1 shows the trend since 1986 in international students entering the U.S. annually. Until 2002, there was a steady increase in international students enrolled in American universities. However, since 2002, the number of students has begun to fall. The decline can be attributed to a number of factors including stringent visa processing policies put [End Page 157] in place after 9/11 policies and perceptions that the U.S. has become less welcoming to international students. The U.S. has also...


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