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Report: Fewer Foreign Students in US, Fewer Americans Studying in Middle East

According to a report by the Institute of International Education, the overall number of foreign students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities has declined for the first time in 30 years, and the number of Americans studying in the Middle East is down by more than 50 percent in the last year.

The Institute says the number of foreign students coming to the United States declined by 2.4 percent in the school year that ended in June to little over 572,000. Revenues from school fees and living expenses paid by foreign student at U.S. universities amount to more than $13 billion a year. Enrollments fell from countries that typically send the largest number of students to the United States, such as China, Japan and Canada. Several Middle Eastern countries, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, sent about 15 percent fewer students to the United States, decreasing the enrollment figures from that region for the second straight year.

The report marks the first overall drop in foreign students in the United States in three decades. The head of the Institute of International Education, Allan Goodman, says he hopes it does not become a trend. "Since 9/11, of course, it has been harder to get visas to study in almost any country, not just the United States," he said. "Students from the Middle East also may have a perception that they are not welcome in America. That is the wrong perception. They are very welcome here. Lots of university leaders and campuses have especially reached out to students from Muslim societies to say we really welcome all students at our campuses."

The Institute of International Education promotes international exchanges and also administers the U.S. government's Fulbright scholarship program. Also, the number of Americans studying in the Middle East fell by a dramatic 51 percent. The numbers fell most dramatically in Israel, which experienced a two-thirds decline in American students compared to the previous year.

However, U.S. enrollments at Turkish colleges rose by 77 percent, and 26 percent more American students chose to study in Egypt. Still, many more foreign students come to the United States than American students who study abroad. Just over 1,000 U.S. students enrolled at Middle Eastern universities last year. Close to 20,000 students from the Middle East region took courses in the United States.

Mr. Goodman says scholars have reason to be concerned. "It is so important at this time that students and scholars travel, that they get to know each other, not through the Internet only, but that they get to know people as people, because that really humanizes international relations and builds enormous investments, peace and friendship for the future," he said.

Overall, the number of Americans studying abroad rose 8.5 percent to a total of 175,000 in the past year. According to the report, most U.S. students choose European countries, and stay for shorter terms than in years past.