Opening doors across the Atlantic

Opening doors across the Atlantic

With the United States’ International Education Week and Monday’s release of the Institute for International Education (IIE) 2019 Open Doors report, the time is ripe for reflection on internationalisation across the Atlantic. The IIE report in particular yields several new insights into mobility flows between the US and Europe, as well as some indications of what European mobility advisors should have on their radar for transatlantic dealings.

Student mobility remained largely steady last year

The recent Open Doors report, published by IIE and funded by the US State Department, was released on November 18, 2019. It confirms much of what practitioners have been seeing anecdotally between the EU and US higher education systems: the rate of mobility is steady, due to the strong institutional partnerships and student exchange agreements between American and European institutions.

Overall, the number of US students studying in Europe increased to 187,000 by 2018, an increase of 3.5% from the prior year. There is more recent data available on the reverse flows, showing a 1.8% decrease in the number of European students studying in the US between 2018 and 2019; in 2019, approximately 91,000 European students studied in the US. Forty-two percent of them were working on their undergraduate education, 29% on graduate degrees, and the remainder were engaged in non-degree study or OPT.

What is OPT, you ask?

Internships and short-term exchanges on the rise

OPT stands for ‘optional practical training’, which allows students to work in short-term internships in the US to gain experience in their field without obtaining a long-term work visa. International students participating in OPT (internship) opportunities grew by 9.6%, while OPT participation grew by half that (4.8%) for European students. Students in most fields can participate in one-year OPTs, and those in scientific and technical fields areas can be authorised to participate in OPT experiences for as long as three years.

Increasing international students’ access

Two additional initiatives will support increased access to US educational resources for international students. First, EducationUSA is increasingly promoting community college opportunities for international students. These two-year colleges are all over the US, in big cities, suburbs and rural areas. They tend to be significantly cheaper than four-year colleges and universities, so community colleges can be the right choice for an international student who wants to enjoy the US educational experience at a more reasonable expense.

Many students – international and domestic – earn their associate degree after two years and then transfer the credits to a four-year institution for the last two years of a bachelor’s degree. This allows students to save on tuition costs while gaining exposure to two very different educational environments. It also expands the pool of international students in emerging and developing economies who could feasibly have an international education experience in the US.

Second, EducationUSA is investing in training for local high school counsellors and English language teachers in countries throughout the world, so they are familiar with the US higher education system. This enables college counsellors and English language teachers to work with students they know and expose them to the unique opportunity students can access by studying at American colleges. This can be the first step for many students in considering and exploring study abroad opportunities.

Law schools recruiting European attorneys

LL.M programmes remain a particularly popular draw for young European lawyers looking to internationalise their CV in a competitive and increasingly global market. Over thirty US law schools participated in the 2019 EducationUSA European LL.M. tour, which included seven stops that allowed the representatives to meet prospective students in London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Milan and Madrid. In the US, LL.M (Master of Laws) programmes are a secondary degree after a student received an initial law degree; Americans with a JD take an LL.M to focus on a particular aspects of the law, and foreign lawyers can obtain the degree as a prerequisite to taking the bar exam in a US state or simply for exposure to the US legal system.

This week is US International Education Week, which aims to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. If you’re interested in learning more about mobility and partnership opportunities with the US higher education sector, or want to find an International Education Week event being hosted in your country, visit the International Education Week 2019 website. You can also learn more about the Open Doors report on the IIE’s website.

Erica Lutes
Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States, Belgium, and Luxembourg, BelgiumExecutive Director, Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States, Belgium, and Luxembourg