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China Passes India as Biggest Source of Foreign Students in US

A new report by the Institute of International Education says China has eclipsed India as the biggest source of international students studying in the United States.

The Institute of International Education's latest survey of foreign students studying in the United States found for the 2009-2010 academic year, nearly 128,000 students from China sought higher education degrees.

Rajika Bhandari is the institute's deputy vice president for research and evaluation. "China saw a huge increase of 30 percent, driven mostly by undergraduate students from China [who] are now making up 20 percent of all international students in the U.S."

Bhandari said the number of students from Saudi Arabia also saw a large increase, jumping 25 percent from the previous year, mostly because of a scholarship program set by the Saudi Arabian government.

Students from India continue to account for a large number of students studying in the United States. In 2009-2010 more than 690,000 foreign students were in U.S. schools.

Bhandari says students from China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Canada account for half of all international students in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Commerce said foreign students contribute nearly $20 billion annually to the U.S. economy, through what they spend on tuition and living expenses.

According to the survey, most students from China come to the United States to study business management or engineering. Students from India focus more on so-called STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and math.

Institute of International Education Executive Vice President Peggy Blumenthal said that as the number students studying overseas continues to grow, the challenge in the future will be finding enough seats.

"There was just an article in today's Times of India, a survey that was done of high school students in India, and found that the great majority of high school students in India plan to study outside of India for some part of their career. That is a lot of students."

Blumenthal said that while brain drain used to be a big concern, now - aside from Africa - the situation is more one of brain circulation.

"People are moving around. They start in their own country perhaps in high school and college. They go somewhere else for a graduate degree. They may go to a third country for their beginning professional work. They may move back and forth between the U.S. and the home country. It is really a very multi-national and diverse flow."

During the 2008-2009 academic year, nearly 230,000 students from China studied overseas. In the same period it was also a major destination for international students, with nearly 240,000 students studying in China.

Blumenthal noted the sharp increase in Chinese students studying in the United States, especially at the undergraduate level, is in part the result of the booming Chinese economy, and the country's growing middle class.

"We know that many families have one child and are pouring all of their resources into that one child," said Blumenthal. "And what we have been hearing on campuses is that American undergraduate education is really appealing to Chinese parents, who are thinking of what is needed for China in the next century. How will my son or daughter be most employable?"

Blumenthal adds that a focus on multi-disciplinary study, active student participation, joint faculty student research and the promotion of innovation and creativity at the undergraduate level are things that make U.S. undergraduate study appealing.