The latest statistics that have come out of Washington that represent the number of American students studying in the Middle East has shown a 62% rise for 2004, following a previous increase in 2003. What has been noteworthy however is that two thirds of these students chose to study Arabic in Israel rather than Syria, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia.
These intriguing statistics that highlight the weaknesses of Arab countries in attracting American students to study the Arabic language were revealed in a recent study conducted by the New York based Institute of International Education which is seen as a primary source of information regarding education in America and abroad.
The report reveals that the number of American students who have traveled to study in the Middle East rose to 1050, however 665 of them traveled to study in Israel, causing an increase of 96% since the academic year of 2003. The report asserted that the number of students studying in Jordan rose to 65 with a 124% increase. In Lebanon, there were 23 American students, which increased the rate only marginally to 64%. As for the United Arab Emirates, it received 20 students from America increasing the rate to 67%. The only Middle Eastern country in which the number of American students decreased was Turkey where the number declined by 12%. The number of American students in Turkey decreased to 200 students.
Trent Rockwood, a researcher in Advanced Arabic Language Studies in the University of Maryland, told Asharq Al Awsat "the choice made by the majority of American students to study Arabic in Israel is partly related to the shortcomings of some Arab education institutions in contrast to the high level of education offered by their Israeli counterparts." He added that most of the American students who choose to study Arabic in Israel are American Jews who favor Israel over other countries. He noted that there were numerous important exchange programs between American and Israeli universities especially with the universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Rockwood told Asharq Al Awsat in well-spoken Arabic, "Some American students may go to study in Palestinian universities such as Birzeit, nevertheless they prefer to live in Israel." Rockwood, 32, visited many Arab countries such as Palestine, Egypt and Jordan and had studied Arabic in the American University of Cairo and in Syria.
The American researcher also explained the choice of Israeli universities saying, "There is the belief that Israel may be safer than other Arab countries. This belief is fed by the negative image of the Middle East within the United States. Also this belief remains because most Arab Americans do not attempt to improve the reputation of Arab countries."
Lisa, a waitress from Washington who learned Arabic in Egypt and Yemen, has agreed that Arab Americans do not seek to improve the perception of their region. Lisa believes that the choice of Israel as a place to study is simply due to reasons related to security. She remembered when she told her mother that she was going to Yemen to study, and after having to explain where the country is situated, Lisa”s mother was close to fainting when she realized where her daughter intended to go. Lisa added, "I think due to the American foreign policy, it has become hard for any American to live anywhere, not just in the Arab world."
Trent Rockwood and Lisa are only two examples of tens of thousands of students who chose to study outside of the United States despite the high quality of American education. The aforementioned report mentioned a 9.6% rise in the number of American students who registered for studies abroad during the academic year 2003/2004 raising the number to 200, 000 students. This represented a 20% increase in comparison to the academic year 2000/2001, which ended just before the 9/11 attacks.
The second surprising outcome of the report was that the Middle East was considered one of the least desired locations for learning. Only 0.5% of all American students abroad are situated in the Middle East. The only less desirable region is Africa where 0.3% of American students abroad are located. The Arab countries also scored low in comparison to other developing countries. For example, the number of American students who traveled to China to study rose by 90% in the academic year of 2003/2004, which presented China as the ninth most popular destination for American students. Furthermore, the report showed that more American female students, the percentage of which is 56.5, travel abroad than male Americans (34.4%).
The majority of the students abroad are white Americans who make up 83.7%. The remaining students are Afro-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Hispanics. The report also indicated that American students prefer to study in the following countries: the U.K (home to 32,000 American students with a 1.7% increase), Italy (21,000 students with a 15% increase), and Spain (20,000 with a 6.4% increase).
According to the report, there have been changes in the kind of students who travel to the United States to study. The number of foreign students registered in American education institutes have dropped by about 1% in the academic year 2004-2005 to approximately half a million. This comes after a sudden 2.4% drop in the academic year 2003-2004. The decline in the number of registered students from Islamic countries continued to drop; most notably in students from Indonesia (13% decrease, 7760 students), Kenya (9% decrease, 7600 students), Pakistan (14% decrease, 6300 students), and Malaysia (5 % decrease, 6100 students).
There was also a dramatic decrease in the number of students from Arab countries. The 30,000 Saudi students in 2004/2005 indicated a 14% decrease. This figure stood at 16% in the academic year 2003-2004. The number of students from the United Arab Emirates also decreased by 7% in 2004/2005 in comparison to 30% in 2003/2004 with a total number of 1200 students. The number of Kuwaiti students decreased by 7% in 2004-2005, in comparison to 17% in 2003-2004 when there were 1720 students. The number of Jordanian students decreased by 5% compared to 15% during the previous years. As for Egyptian students, the number dropped by 14% to 1575 students. The number of students from Morocco dropped by 14.4% to 1571. The only exception to such decreases in the number of students in America was Turkey, which had sent approximately 12,500 students to study in the United States last year.
There are few indications that the number of Arab students will increase again in the United States and this depends on security matters. The same, however, applies to the American students who intend on traveling to the Middle East to learn Arabic.