Campaign aims to double number of US students studying abroad

150 universities pledge to join Institute of International Education initiative

At Montana State University in the sparsely populated northwestern US state, each academic department will soon have an adviser encouraging students to study abroad.

Texas Tech University is going to make it easier for students returning from international programmes to apply credits from the experience towards their degrees.

And the University of Wisconsin-Madison will establish a scholarship to help physically or learning-disabled students to study overseas.

These pledges are among dozens being announced as part of an ambitious campaign called Generation Study Abroad that aims to double, by the end of this decade, the number of US students who spend time at universities abroad.

The initiative is meant to improve US global competitiveness, but also promises timely financial payoffs for host countries and institutions.

In addition to improving performance and graduation rates, study abroad is “one of the best ways students can acquire global skills”, said Daniel Obst, deputy vice-president for international partnerships at the New York-based Institute of International Education, which is behind the scheme.

Vastly increasing the number who take advantage of such opportunities, he said, will “shift that paradigm so that every student expects to study abroad as an essential part of their college education”.

Less than 2 per cent of all US students enrolled in higher education participate each year in study-abroad programmes, according to NAFSA, formerly known as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers. That still totals more than 283,000 students, a larger study-abroad cohort than that of any other nation except China.

They bring to host nations the full price of tuition, plus additional economic benefits. This helps to explain why eight governments and international higher education associations have signed up to the IIE campaign, including the British Council, the German Academic Exchange Service and the governments of France and Spain.

As students and their families recognise the long-term career value of study abroad, US universities have also been pushing to expand it. More than 150 have already pledged to join the IIE initiative.

The top destination for US students is the UK, which attracted 34,660 of them, or more than one in 10 of all US students studying abroad in the 2011-12 academic year, according to IIE. Italy, Spain, France, China, Germany and Australia were also among the most popular destinations.

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