The following report is based on NAFSA's fall 2004 survey as well as remarks by Elizabeth Soppelsa at October's 30th anniversary of the Applied English Center at K.U. The NAFSA survey is online at www.nafsa.org.
Visa problems continue to plague universities across the United States in their efforts to recruit and retain graduate as well as undergraduate students from abroad, according to a new fall 2004 snapshot survey by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. "More than half of the doctoral and research institutions...reported a decline in new international graduate enrollments," according to a NAFSA press release. "At the same time, many policy makers, business and higher education leaders, and the medical and scientific communitities have sounded the alarm about the potential ramifications of a decline in international talent flows into the United States."
In her remarks at the Applied English Center on October 22nd, Betty Soppelsa, director of the AEC from 1980 to 2000, and now Deputy Executive Director at NAFSA, said, "The U.S. remains the most highly desired destination for students and scholars across the globe who want to participate in our higher education system and see our society first hand."
But there are many obstacles facing prospective international students today, she explained. "We are living through a moment in which students and scholars from abroad face burdensome requirements, hostile rhetoric, armed conflict, and the U.S. failure to foster lasting peace in the Middle East."
Many visa issues are actually being resolved, according to Betty Soppelsa. "Our relations with the staff of the Department of Homeland Security are far better than they were with the staff of the old INS," she said. "NAFSA is now routinely consulted on matters affecting international students and scholars and we work in concert to demystify regulations and work out bugs in the system."
It is also easier for students from abroad to get visas to study at universities which have made important changes, explained Ms. Soppelsa, "for example, by moving up their admissions decisions, to give students more time to get through the visa-screening process."
But she also thinks the U.S. government should do more to get beyond "the false dichotomy that we have to choose between international education and exchange and national security."
"The government's efforts should be on maximizing our security, by denying access to those who seek to harm us," suggested Betty Soppelsa, "while facilitating access for those whose presence among us serves our interests and the interests of the global community."
In concluding her remarks at the AEC celebration, Betty Soppelsa, Deputy Executive Director at NAFSA, made a call for greater activism and social involvement. "Each of us, as individuals and as a community, should work harder than we ever have before, to push for change in the attitudes among our neighbors and our government," she said. "I really believe we will get past this moment in our history, and will refocus our energy and ideals towards openness to and interest in the global community. Your work in educating each student and scholar...is a contribution to the harmony we all believe in."
Thanks to the Applied English Center at the University of Kansas for providing the text of Betty Soppelsa's remarks for excerpts in the ESL MiniConference Online.
Article by Robb Scott
2004 ESL MiniConference Online