A 32 per cent increase in students from India and a 20 per cent increase from China have led to a surge in international graduate enrolment at US universities for the first time in four years.
The surge is driven by a 12 per cent increase in first-time enrolment for fall 2006 compared with a one per cent increase in 2005 above 2004 levels, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) said in a new study.
According to Open Doors 2005, a study by the Institute of International Education, approximately 5,65,039 students came from around the world to study at US schools of higher education in 2005.
The leading country of origin was India, which sent 80,466 students, followed by China with 62,523 students and South Korea with 53,358 students.
Because graduate degrees can take a long time to complete, it takes several years for increases in first-time enrolment to be fully reflected in total enrolment. The fields of engineering (22 per cent) and business (10 per cent) showed the biggest increases.
The CGS study, which is based on fall 2006 enrolment figures, confirms the findings of recent reports by the National Science Foundation and the American Council on Education, which showed that over the past century the US had increasingly become an educator to the world.
Enrolment figures for international graduate students declined in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US but now are rebounding, according to CGS president Debra Stewart, who credits the US departments of State and Homeland Security and US graduate schools for the turnaround.
"The increases reflect positively on both US government policy changes and the outreach efforts of graduate schools themselves," Stewart said.
"These findings confirm that there has been a recovery in international graduate students flows to the United States, and I am optimistic that this encouraging trend will continue," she said.
What matters even more than the numbers of students admitted to US graduate schools is the quality of those international students, Stewart noted. But here, too, the facts are encouraging: 99 per cent of the graduate schools responding to a CGS survey in August said that the quality of international graduate students being admitted for study is as good or better than in the past.
In terms of total enrolment, the CGS survey shows a one per cent increase in fall 2006 as compared to fall 2005 enrolment numbers. This contrasts with a three per cent decrease between fall 2005 and fall 2005.
The CGS data are based on the responses of 175 graduate schools, including 80 per cent of the 25 institutions with the largest student enrolments, according to CGS.
Perceptions in some parts of the world that it became more difficult to get a student visa after September 11, 2001, are "outdated," according to Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, who addressed the issue earlier in 2006 at the US University Presidents Summit on International Education.
At the same conference, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that almost all visa applications - some 97 per cent - are processed within two days.
"Outdated perceptions regarding changes to visa processing could not be more different from today's reality," Rice said. "Even for the small fraction of applicants who require additional processing for security reasons, we have reduced the processing time from weeks, months, sometimes never-to less than 14 days."
The State Department says it has taken a number of steps to expedite the processing of student visa applications, including adding new consular positions and negotiating extended reciprocity agreements so that students are not required to apply for visas as frequently.
US embassies and consulates have also been directed to put student and exchange visitors at the head of the queue when scheduling visa interviews.
Stewart said these changes have helped reduce the waiting time for students.