Foreign Students: US Surplus with Asia Foundation of Multinational Trade Talks Such as APEC Begins with Cross-Cultural Student Exchange Programs

Article excerpt

TODAY President Clinton is in Seattle meeting with leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Though relatively unknown, APEC's membership encompasses half the world's output of goods and services and about 40 percent of the world's trade.

At APEC, the media will focus on the economic dynamism of the Pacific rim and on the US trade deficit with Japan and China.

As we debate issues of rice, semiconductors, and cars, however, we should remind ourselves of an arena where the United States holds an unchallenged surplus with Asia - and with the rest of the world. That commodity is foreign students.

Foreign students spend more than $6 billion in the US every year. East Asian and Pacific students alone spend $3 billion. Department of Commerce figures show that expenditures by foreign students have been increasing $500 million a year. By any measure, foreign study at American colleges and universities is a growth industry.

Such growth is not trivial, even in a trillion-dollar economy. It rivals or outstrips big-league US exports like wheat, soybean, corn coal, and lumber - even if it can't match export superstars like aircraft and computers.

In the 1992-93 academic year, 214,535 students from East Asia and the Pacific studied in the US. They were 48 percent of the 419,585 foreigners studying here - and the largest segment of foreign students in any country. Eight of the top 10 places of origin for foreign students are in Pacific Asia: China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Of course, the significance of foreign students in the US is greater and more interesting than their immediate contribution to our economy. Students flock here for one simple reason: US colleges and universities offer a combination of size, scope, and caliber of educational opportunity that is unmatched.

Although their interests are as varied as those of American students, their fields of study are focused mainly on business and management (20.1 percent) and engineering (17.7 percent). The next most popular area is physical and life sciences (8.8) followed by mathematics and computer science (8.7 percent), the fine arts (5.1), health sciences (4.1), humanities (3.8), and agriculture (2).

What foreign and American students learn from each other may be intangible; but it is of no less importance. Foreign students bring to the US vitality, energy, and new ideas. …