By Haidar M. Harmanani | Professor of Computer Science, Lebanese American University, Byblos, Lebanon
974,926 international students studied at US colleges and universities according to the annual Open Doors figures conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE). The figures include 89,599 Arab students, an increase of 12% over the previous year.
The Association of International Educators (NAFSA) also presented the latest growth numbers: 373,381 jobs and 30.5 billion dollars resulted to the US economy from the presence of international students.
Saudi Arabia came in the fourth place of origin for international students studying in the United States, and is by a wide margin the first among Arab and Middle Eastern countries with 59,945 students.
Saudi Arabia was followed by Kuwait who claimed the sixteenth overall place with 9,034 students. All other Arab countries had 20,620 students studying in the US in 2015.
What do these figures tell?
First, 30% of the Arab students are studying in the US at the graduate level, surpassing 20%, the target set by the Bologna Ministers of Education. Furthermore, 48% of the Arab students were at the undergraduate level in addition to 20% who enrolled in non-degree activities and 4% enrolled in professional training.
Second, Arab students contributed $25.5 billion to the US economy in 2015. Saudi Arabia’s share alone was $1.7 billion.
Third, Saudi Arabia saw a double-digit growth for the 8th year in a row, but most of the Saudi students are funded with government scholarships such as as the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP). The trend may not continue, however, as the new Saudi government is placing restrictions and conditions that will limit future access to scholarships. For example, KASP is now only supporting students who would be pursuing their education at the world's 200 best universities.
Fourth, the majority of Arab students in the US are enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. For example, 44.9% of the Kuwaiti students and 23.9% of the Saudi students are enrolled in US engineering programs.
Fifth, the study reveals that 304,467 US students studied abroad in 2015 for academic credits. While 53.3% of these students went to Europe, only 1.13% opted to study abroad in the Arab region. Morocco and Jordan led the Arab countries with 1,255 and 1,085 students, respectively. The United Arab Emirates came in third with 735 US students. Within this category, one can not but notice how Egypt's turmoil has affected its study abroad programs which have declined by 92%.
Finally, although the security realities in Syria would imply an increase in the number of Syrian students studying in the US, there were only 800 Syrians in 2015 studying in the US.
Table 1: Arab Students Studying in the US
Table 2: US Students Studying in the Arab Region
Table 3: Academic Levels of Arab Students in the US