More Americans studying in less traditional countries abroad, research shows

by Ray Clancy on November 18, 2010

Americans studying less traditional courses abroad

A significant number of US students are studying abroad in less traditional countries such as South America, Africa and the Middle East, a new report shows.

Almost half of the top 25 foreign educational destinations for Americans were outside Western Europe and in countries where English is not the main language, the report from the Institute of International Education.

There was a 16% increase in the number of US students going to Africa, a 13% increase in those studying in South America, a 9% rise in numbers moving to the Middle East to study and a 2% rise in the number of students choosing Asia.

The report though, Open Doors, also shows that there has been an overall fall in the number of American students choosing to study abroad, down to 260,327 in the 2008/09 academic year compared with 262,416 in the previous year, a decline of 0.8%.

It is the first time in the 25 years that then report has been published that numbers have not increased. But Peggy Blumenthal, the institute’s executive vice president, said that researchers expect the numbers to rise again next year.

Most Americans study in Britain, Italy and Spain but their popularity is declining. The United Kingdom, the leading destination, hosted 6% fewer students than in the previous year while Italy was down 11%, Spain down 4%, and France down 3%.

Countries with the biggest increases include Argentina that was up 15 %, South Africa up 12%, Chile up 28%, the Netherlands up 14%, Denmark up 21%, Peru up 32% and South Korea up 29%.

The growing interest in non-traditional destinations is partly because students with a wider variety of majors are deciding to travel, Blumenthal said. Public health majors can go to South Africa to learn about the AIDS crisis, while business majors could travel to China and environmental majors might study in South America, Blumenthal said. Some of those countries are appealing because of their lower cost of living, she added.

In terms of subjects being studies, some 21% choose social sciences, 20% business and management, 12% humanities, 7% fine or applied arts and physical/life sciences, 6% foreign languages, 5% health professions, 4% education, 3% engineering (3%), 2% math/computer science and 1% agriculture.

Also, the fact that English is more widely spoken makes it easier for Americans to study in more places, according to Allan Goodman, the institute’s president and chief executive officer.

‘Ten or 15 years ago, you couldn’t go to France or Germany unless you were fluent. English has opened the world up. As educators our challenge remains one of making international a part of what it means to become educated. International experience provides key skills needed by American graduates to succeed in the global workforce,’ he said.

The Institute of International Education is a New York based non-profit whose Open Doors 2010 report was produced with support from the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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