Sun, Nov 04, 2007 - Page 9 News List

US still top of the class
with foreign students

For millions of students worldwide, the US' higher education system still represents the global standard

By Shola Adenekan , The Guardian, London

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Sophie Gilbert thinks journalism as a university course is viewed less seriously in Britain than in the US. So when she wanted to pursue a postgraduate degree, she enrolled at New York University.

"Journalism is not `just' a vocational postgraduate course [in the US]," the 24-year-old former magazine journalist from London said.

"There's a lot of thinking about the process and history of reporting the news, and a lot of reading courses," she said.

Studying in the US is more expensive, but Gilbert said: "Personally, it gave me the break I needed to completely shake up my perspective and thinking."

Park Joo-hee, a 19-year-old South Korean accountancy undergraduate at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, initially applied to study in England, before opting for the US.

"In general, for business and accounting, I felt that the US is better than countries in Europe, which was a big determinant for me coming here," he said.

"Also, I felt that I would have a more fun college experience in the US, especially in LA because of its population diversity and good weather compared to the gloomy weather in London," he said.

For more than 50 years, US colleges and universities have been luring millions of young people from all over the world. A study by the London-based Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) -- a think tank affiliated with the Association of Commonwealth Universities and Universities UK -- said the US has the biggest share (22 percent) of the international student market. Last year nearly 565,000 foreign students traveled there for higher education.

The US remains the benchmark in higher education and its institutions dominate global league tables.

US experience

"For many students, a US higher education degree still seems to define the quintessential `American experience,'" OBHE chief executive officer Don Olcott said.

"The massive sports facilities, on-campus accommodation and fraternities that US education seems to provide offer an archetype for student living [of the sort] that international students have seen in movies," he said.

Olcott pointed out that despite heavy investment by other countries, the idea of higher education has more significance in the US, which is why institutions receive a lot of their funding from the private sector and alumni donations.

In addition, the US has a tradition of openness, which fosters the freedom of inquiry essential to productive graduate training. This means students have much more flexibility and control over their destinies, including finance -- a factor that is lacking in many European countries, where debate about whether higher education should be a privilege or a right continues to cause controversy.

"Perhaps the greatest and most lasting draw to students is the flexibility of the system," said Jerome Lucido, vice-provost for enrollment and policy management at USC, which for the past six years has consistently drawn the largest international population of any US university.

"Undergraduate students are not restricted to one area of study, are not required to choose early on and can often structure a program according to their diverse and emerging interests," he said.

Another big advantage is the number of US institutions of higher learning -- more than 4,000 and counting. These range from public and private research universities to two-year community colleges, regional universities and the growing for-profit university sector.

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