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STEM in the USA - Key Attraction for Graduates Across the Globe

The preliminary report of the Council of Graduate Schools looks at major trends in USA’s education. A brief survey.
BY Skendha Singh |   01-07-2015
The latest report from the Council of Graduate Schools has shown a 2% increase in international graduate applications between Fall 2014 to Fall 2015. This marks ten consecutive years of increase in international graduate applications to the USA.

The report, preliminary to the final one released in fall, highlights several interesting trends.

China and India have reclaimed top spots as the biggest sources for international students. China, in spite of being number one, has shown a decline in applications by 2% for the third consecutive year. India, on the other hand, while known for favouring Masters and certificate programs, has surprised by posting a 12% growth. Countries like Brazil have also driven growth with a positive change in numbers. Applications from Europe, on the other hand, declined by 1%.

About half of all graduate applications, within the US and outside, were for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) courses. Within STEM, the major drivers of growth were the Engineering, and the Physical and Earth Sciences fields, where the numbers grew by 4% and 14% respectively. The popularity of STEM fields in the USA is underlined by the fact that research intensive universities received 83% of the applications. Strong industry ties, thought leadership, and the possibility of taking up a PhD in the same institution are probably strong drivers as well.

Another pull factor for STEM in the USA seems to be the OPT provision under the F1 student visa. Under this, students from all undergraduate and graduate programs are allowed an extension of up to 12 months after they graduate, if they find suitable employment/internships in the designated period. STEM graduates are allowed a further extension of 17 months after the initial 12 months, if they so require.

The policy is keen sighted. Permanent and resident US citizens, which accounted for just half of graduate applications to STEM fields, made only 37% applications for PhD programs. Increasingly, the nation's best and brightest will come from other countries. This will be especially true for scientific and technical disciplines.

Therefore, the report visibly demonstrates that international students are a key resource for the country. Liberal policies on visa and immigration have boosted education and human resources sectors in, not only the USA, but also Australia and Canada. In contrast, the UK’s plunging popularity among international students has demonstrated what reactionary measures can do.

Overall, the report gives a very positive picture for graduate education in the USA. In spite of the OPT recently being challenged in court, one hopes that the country will look at the available data, and stay clear of conservative approaches.

Courtesy: Council of Graduate Schools, www.cgsnet.org

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