US universities still a top draw for international students
Around the globe, many say that the Virginia Tech shootings won't affect their plans to study in the US.
Nikhil Mantrawadi, a 28-year-old Indian computer engineering student from Pune, is burning the midnight oil these days, hunching his tall frame over preparations for the Graduate Record Examination he is scheduled to take on May 30.Skip to next paragraph
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A good score will be his ticket to grad school at a top US university – Stanford, he hopes – and to his dream of a career as a scientist there. The massacre at Virginia Tech has not deterred him in the slightest.
Indeed, he is considering applying to Virginia Tech because of its reputation. "That was an isolated incident," he says of Cho Seung-hui's shooting spree that left 32 people dead on Monday. "The massacre was committed by a student, not a terrorist. It could have happened anywhere."
The campus tragedy has caught the world's attention, but interviews around the globe suggest that it has dissuaded very few from pursuing their dreams of studying at some of the most revered universities in the world.
Today's internationally mobile students "go wherever they need to go to do what they need to do," says Rolf Hoffmann, head of the Fulbright Commission in Berlin, which advises students on study in the US. "They are not guided by emotion."
They are not universally sanguine, however. In Seoul, where Mr. Cho was born, fourth-year Korea University student Kim Min Wook says that after he graduates in June, he will continue his studies in England because "America is more dangerous."
"Now people hesitate to go to the US," he adds.
But most students' worries are outweighed by the career prospects that a US education opens up and the sense that "this was an exceptional affair ... a personal problem, not the fault of an educational system," as an international relations official at a leading Chinese university put it.
"This will not discourage students," says Albert Kim, a former UN official from South Korea who studied in the US. "They know study in the States is the only way to a really good education. Everybody wants to go to the US."
That will reassure American educators and university administrators who have been aggressively seeking to carve out a larger share of the lucrative and growing international education market.
More than 564,000 foreign students are enrolled at US universities – more than twice the number in Britain, the second-largest host. International students contribute $13.5 billion a year to the US economy and higher education is the fifth-largest service-sector export, according to the Department of Commerce.
And the outlook is promising: A 2004 report by British and Australian universities predicted that 5.8 million students will be studying abroad by 2020, up from 2.1 million in 2003.
Though efforts to grow the US share of that market appear unlikely to suffer significantly from the Virginia attack, they do not help burnish America's international image among young people.
"I've thought about going to study in America but now that I see the problems there, I'm not sure I want to," says Tanya Kovaleva, a language student at Moscow State University in Russia. "It seems like anyone can get a gun and just go kill people. The thought of that really scares me. I will think twice before going to the US."
US gun laws have drawn particular criticism in Europe, where the press and public debate have focused on the ease with which Cho acquired two handguns.
"Perhaps of all the elements of American exceptionalism … it is the gun culture that foreigners find so hard to understand," wrote British commentator Gerard Baker in The Times.
"Last night, French (TV) news showed a guy who wanted to buy a gun … going to a store and buying one" in the US, says Gaelle, a cosmetics saleswoman at a Paris market. "That's something we can't imagine."