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Open Doors to US-Norwegian Cooperation

”There is a great potential for increased academic cooperation between the US and Norway in fields such as technology, environment and telecommunications,” said Peggy Blumenthal, Vice President of the Institute of International Education (IIE).

Vicepresident i Institute of International Education - Peggy Blumenthal

Peggy Blumenthal, Vicepresident for Institute of International Education.

Ms. Blumenthal was invited to speak about the academic mobility trends for the US with a special focus on the US-Norwegian relations in a networking event held at the 60th annual NAFSA Conference in Washington D.C in May 2008.

According to the data of the last Open Doors mobility report, published annually by IIE with support of the US Department of State, international enrolment at institutions of higher education in the US has increased by 3 per cent since 2006. The United States now receives 582,984 international students. 59% of the foreign students on US campuses are from Asia. Saudi Arabia is also a rapidly upcoming source country.

Strong EU Programmes

Enrolment from Europe, however, has been declining over the last few years, down 2.3% in 2006/07. The decline has been even steeper for Norway, which sent 1.191 students to the U.S. last year, down 8.2% from the prior year. Throughout the nineties there was a good exchange balance between the US and Europe, but currently there is a growing imbalance in the numbers of outgoing and incoming students. Peggy Blumenthal explained this tendency as an effect of a changing European landscape for higher education. ”The EU programmes are very attractive to European students and researchers. The European programmes are academically strong and also excellent in terms of financing”, she said. The decline of the interest in the US could also be politically motivated: ”Europeans have developed a negative image of the US. I do not think that difficulties with visas and other formal requirements is the main reason, Since the decline began before September 11 and has continued even as visa processing issues are ameliorated.”

Short term programmes

Currently, the US receives over 22 per cent of the international student population, but exports a very low percentage of its own students abroad. Why do so few US students go abroad? “Actually there are more US students going abroad now than ever,” Blumenthal says. Over the last year the number has increased by 8,5 per cent to 223,000 and more than half of those students go to Europe. Norway received 311 last year, up 7%. Latin America and Asia are also growing study abroad destinations for American students.

Ms. Blumenthal thinks there is a great potential for increased academic cooperation between Norway and the US and pointed out some of the steps that Norwegian institutions could pursue to attract more students and researchers from the US.

One hindrance for mobility is that there is often a mismatch regarding the desired duration of the study abroad period. The host campus in Europe – and Norway - often wants US students for a full term, but the US students, at least at the undergraduate level, want short term study opportunities. ”They want to do their study abroad period during the Summer, or for two to four weeks in January term or the Spring break.” Blumenthal recommended the Norwegian institutions design more short term programmes in order to attract undergraduate students from the US, especially short term programs offered in English, focusing on fields of relevance to their future careers

Technology, Environment and Telecommunications

”There is a huge potential for research collaboration in fields such as technology, environmental studies and telecommunications. The fact is that Norway has very good universities that offer unique possibilities in some specific fields” Blumenthal stated.

It is true also at US institutions that internationally oriented faculty creates internationally oriented students. Traditionally, US scholars have had limited interest in professional travel to foreign countries, but this is now changing. One of the challenges for Norway, then, is to reach out and publicise the opportunities offered, and be more visible in the North American academic community. ”If we get the faculty moving, we will get the students moving with them”, Ms. Blumenthal concludes.

Text and photo: Bente Gundersen/SIU

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