- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

From combined dispatches

Students from Middle Eastern and other Islamic countries have shied away from U.S. universities because of tighter post-September 11 visa laws and a weakened global economy, a study released yesterday said.

“It wasn’t so much anti-Americanism but more of a kind of concern that Americans did not want them,” said Peggy Blumenthal of the Institute of International Education, which conducted the survey on enrollment in the 2002-03 academic year.

“For some students from Islamic countries, this was not the year they were going to come here.”

Student enrollment from the Middle East was down 10 percent to 34,803, compared with the 2001-02 academic year, the New York-based institute’s annual “Open Doors” survey found. The decreases included 25 percent drops each from Saudi Arabia (to 4,175) and Kuwait (2,212) and 15 percent from the United Arab Emirates (1,792).

Similar decreases in enrollment were reported from other countries with high Muslim populations. Indonesia was down 10 percent, Malaysia down 11 percent.

The survey also found that the growth rate for the number of foreign students enrolled overall was the lowest in seven years at 0.6 percent, compared with an enrollment increase of 6.4 percent the previous year.

The U.S. government has paid closer attention to foreign students after the September 11 attacks because one of the hijackers had a student visa. Stricter visa procedures since have caused delays or made application more difficult.

Educators here and abroad say it appears that overseas schools, especially in the United Kingdom and Australia, are benefiting from the U.S. crackdown.

Although decreases were reported from 13 of the 20 countries that send most students, India, South Korea and China showed strong increases. India, which increased enrollment by 12 percent to 74,603, was the leading country of origin for international students in U.S. colleges and universities.

The total number of foreign students enrolled was 586,323 for the 2002-03 academic year compared with 582,996 for the 2001-02 year. The academic year starts in September.

Miss Blumenthal, the institute’s vice president for educational services, also said foreign students were having trouble with new visa procedures or thought they would have difficulty and did not bother to apply.

Other factors, she said, were financial concerns in a weakened worldwide economy and the fact that tuition has risen faster than inflation in recent years.

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