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.
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America's international reputation as a gun-slinging society dashed one Chinese woman's hopes of studying there several years ago. Qi Wei wanted to do her master's in engineering in the United States, but recalls that "my family were very against me going."Skip to next paragraph
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"They thought everyone has guns; they didn't want to see me in this kind of dangerous environment," she says. Her parents forbade her to study in the US, so she went to a British university.
Parents are more worried than their student offspring by the sort of news they have heard from America this week, says the Chinese university administrator, who asked not to be identified. "They have not had much opportunity to go abroad, and get their information from the media," she says. "And they don't report peaceful things, only the security problems."
That leads "some Korean parents not to let their kids go to certain universities" in US cities with a reputation for violence, says Frank Plantan, a US visiting fellow at Kyunghee University.
Such worries will now be compounded by fears of an anti-Korean backlash, say some students in Seoul. "Some Korean moms are reluctant to send boys to the States and even more reluctant to send girls," says Kim Woo-Ree, a third-year student at Korea University.
In Pune, the staff of an academy coaching Indian students for US grad-school entrance exams were quick to phone parents when they heard of the shooting. Most parents saw it as "a stray incident," says Dilip Oak, head of the academy; none of his students have yet changed their plans, he adds, in contrast to 9/11, which caused a two-year drop in his student numbers.
Viewed from some regions like the Middle East, Monday's death toll of 32 was tragic, but hardly more shocking than the daily news stream of violence. And the opportunities held out by a US education far outweigh any fears of violence, especially when the risks of being caught in it are more remote than at home, says Joseph Phillips, Morocco country director of America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, which brings students to the US.
Morocco, for example, has seen a spate of suicide bombings over the past month, Mr. Phillips says. "Throughout the whole region, we have seen these things happen. A student is not going to run away from studying in the US because of this."
Especially when the prospects are so enticing. "The quality of the education and scholarship has a reputation for being much better than it is here, and students have much more individual freedom to pursue projects that interest them," says Mr. Hoffmann, who says he gets five times more high-quality applications for German Fulbright scholarships than he can accommodate.
That is the attraction for Shi Xia, who is doing her master's at Peking University, and who wants to continue her studies of Chinese women's history in the US. "In the field of women's history, American universities do a much better job than other countries," Ms. Shi says.
"Students are seeking knowledge," says Pan Wei, a Peking University professor who studied and taught at Berkeley. "Chinese students know quite well that the US is still one of the safest countries with an abundance of knowledge."
When he was studying in California, 20 years ago, he was warned not to carry more than $20 and to give it up if mugged, Mr. Pan recalls. "People understand it is not as safe as China.... But it is not a problem that will stop people going to study."
Sergei Oznobishchev, a professor of journalism in Moscow, agrees. "My students think the shooting was tragic, but it wouldn't stop them from going to America.... They say that many things happen everywhere, and if they go to America they will try to be careful."
• Mark Rice-Oxley in London, Robert Marquand in Paris, Mariah Blake in Hamburg, Anuj Chopra in Pune, India, Donald Kirk in Seoul, Jill Carroll in Cairo, and Fred Weir in Moscow contributed. Peter Ford wrote the story from Beijing.