- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

Catheryn Cotten, director of the International Office at Duke University of North Carolina, spoke with reporter Marion Baillot of The Washington Times about the reality of the current U.S. visa policy and its effect on international students.

Question: Why is it so important for a country such as the United States to have foreign students come for university and post-graduate education?

Answer: Any major university must educate and conduct research in a global environment.

It is essential that tomorrow’s leaders in all academic areas — science, technology, the arts and public policy— have experience in the world, not just in one country.

U.S. universities encourage U.S. citizen students to study abroad, and we encourage students from abroad to study here.

The brightest, most energetic, most committed people from different backgrounds and perspectives need to challenge each other, learn from each other, solve problems together, and agree or disagree in constructive ways.

Q: What would be the long-term consequences for the United States if it continues to discourage international students while other English-speaking countries aggressively recruit them?

A: At its most basic level, the purpose of education is to prepare people to solve problems.

If we bring together the best minds and talents from around the world, then we are likely to be more successful in solving problems and making progress in science and technology, in politics and economic development, and in the arts and humanities.

When we discourage international education, we are closing the door on people who could enrich the lives of the people of the United States and of the world.

Q:Could you explain how Europe is now challenging the United States on the international student exchange scene?

A: If other countries make it easier to get visas to study there, and the United States makes it more difficult, then the United States loses the synergy and different talents and perspectives that make up great universities and that prepare all students, United States and non-United States, to live as productive members of a global society.

When people believe that it is more difficult to come to the United States, they don’t even apply to U.S. schools. We cannot admit people who don’t even apply.

Q: How would you then describe the future of international student exchange at a global level?

A: In some ways the world is growing smaller every day. Travel gets cheaper or more available in more places. Universities all over the world organize student and scholar exchanges, research collaborations, international conferences and seminars.

At the same time communications tools, such as the Internet, allow students to get degrees from universities whose campuses they never visit or “attend” lectures 10,000 miles away. But a different kind of learning occurs when people can talk face to face, when they watch their children play together, when the same event shocks one and amuses the other and each tries to understand the other’s reaction.

And most research must still be done by people working together in the same place on the same project.

The archeological site, the very sophisticated and expensive piece of scientific equipment, the access to research subjects or materials — all are simply where they are and not physically shareable in any logical way.

Different people from different countries must come together in “that” place to do “that” work, and each brings knowledge, talents, and perspectives that no one country can provide alone.

Every nation has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens and to consider carefully the people it allows within its borders, but it closes its borders at its peril.

The future belongs to those countries that support international education with their resources and their visa policies, and to those students and scholars from around the world who are willing to take the step into a new country and a new culture.

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