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U.S. Institutions of Higher Education Explore Opportunities in Southeast Asia
During a trade mission to Indonesia and Vietnam to promote U.S. educational services, Francisco Sánchez, under secretary for international trade, visited a training center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
The United States holds a preeminent position in the world of education. This spring, representatives from 56 U.S. educational institutions joined Francisco Sánchez, under secretary for international trade, in a series of events in Indonesia and Vietnam that allowed the institutions to highlight the benefits they offer to a growing pool of potential students.
by John Ward
As the noted American philosopher John Dewey once wrote, “Education is not preparation for life, but life itself.” That sentiment is doubly applicable to the economic life of the United States. Postsecondary educational institutions are not only important drivers of growth and innovation domestically, but also an important services export for the United States, adding nearly $20 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2009/10 academic year.
For one week this past April, 70 representatives from 56 accredited U.S. colleges and universities attested to this economic fact as they accompanied Sánchez on a six-day trade mission to Indonesia and Vietnam. They promoted the programs their institutions make available to students wanting to pursue studies in the United States.
“Expanding the educational opportunities for Indonesian and Vietnamese students will provide direct benefits to U.S. companies doing business with these critical markets in the future,” noted Sánchez. “Many of them expressly seek out U.S.–educated distributors overseas because of their understanding of American culture, their English language skills, and the resulting increased ease of doing business with them. This is a part of a long-term strategy to set America on strong footing in emerging global markets.”
Education Fair, Symposium in Indonesia
The trade mission began in Indonesia on April 3, with a focus on an education fair held at Sampoerna Strategic Square in Jakarta. This event welcomed approximately 6,000 students and 10,000 attendees in all. In addition to the fair, the representatives attended a symposium on U.S.–Indonesian higher education held on April 4.
According to the Institute of International Education, 6,943 Indonesian students attended postsecondary educational institutions in the United States during the 2009/10 academic year. Although that number declined from a peak of 13,282 in 1997/98, Indonesia remains among the top 20 places of origin for foreign students studying in the United States.
The most precipitous decline in the numbers from Indonesia came after September 11, 2001, when there was a widespread perception that international students, particularly Muslim students, were no longer welcome in the United States. Debra H. Rogers, the International Trade Administration’s project officer for the trade mission, noted, “An important goal of this mission was to reassure students and parents in Indonesia that the United States welcomes international students of all religions and backgrounds.”
The trade mission’s participants saw the large turnout at the education fair as a positive sign. According to John Lorentz of Shawnee State University, it was “a productive mission that will lead to increased educational connections between the United States and Indonesia.”
Growing Market in Vietnam
Following Indonesia, the trade mission traveled to Vietnam on April 5. Vietnam has recently been an especially strong growth market for U.S. education. During the past five years, the number of Vietnamese students coming to the United States has grown each year by an average of more than 30 percent. In 2009/10, there were 13,112 Vietnamese students studying at U.S. institutions of higher education, making Vietnam the ninth leading place of origin for students coming to the United States.
The mission visited two cities: Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the capital. On April 6, in Ho Chi Minh City, the mission took part in a student fair, which attracted more than 1,000 participants. This event was complemented by an education-partnering workshop and matchmaking sessions with Vietnamese educational agents.
On April 8, the trade mission ended its journey in Hanoi, where the Institute of International Education organized the Hanoi Education Fair. This event attracted approximately 1,200 students and incorporated workshops on visas, standardized testing, and other practical aspects of studying in the United States.
Critical Skills and International Understanding
The contacts made during the trade mission lay the groundwork for future economic relationships that will bring tangible advantages to both providers of educational services in the United States and to the overseas students who travel here to study. But equally important will be the numerous cultural and personal ties that are established and the benefits they hold for both sides of this educational transaction.
That sentiment was clearly expressed by Sánchez in remarks he made during the trade mission: “Building ties with international students not only helps our American students gain a greater level of international understanding—a critical skill for success in the 21st century global economy—but familiarizes future global leaders with the American people and U.S. society.”
John Ward is a writer in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Public Affairs.
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