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US government to launch study abroad branch

In a bid to increase the number of US students with an international experience, the US Department of State will launch a study abroad branch that will push for diversity among study abroad participants, promote non-traditional destinations and build partnerships with foreign governments.

At the Forum on Education Abroad, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Even Ryan underlined that study abroad was a "strategic imperative" for the US.At the Forum on Education Abroad, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Even Ryan underlined that study abroad was a "strategic imperative" for the US.

The US’s study abroad sector currently sends 300,000 US students abroad annually mostly on short-term or semester long programmes

Speaking at the Forum on Education Abroad in New Orleans last week, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan said the government “firmly believes study abroad is a strategic imperative for our country”.

“We lag behind other countries in student mobility to our detriment,” she told delegates. “We want to make sure the future leaders of our country are international and globally competent.”

“We lag behind other countries in students mobility to our detriment”

Last year, US study abroad grew by just 2%. “It will take 35 years to double numbers and that’s unacceptable,” said Ryan.

The study abroad office will be housed within the Global Educational Programs in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs which oversees the Open Doors Report and inbound-focused programmes like EducationUSA.

The branch already exists to the extent that it houses the diversity scholarship programme, Benjamin A. Gilman, and Critical Language Scholarship scheme. However, a position has been created for a director to take over daily operations and expand capacity.

With a committed director and staff, the government hopes to increase support of the US’s study abroad sector which currently sends 300,000 US students abroad annually mostly on short-term or semester-long programmes to Western Europe.

The office will work with the State Department and White House’s 100,000 strong initiatives in China and the Americas that promotes two-way mobility between the countries.

The government also plans to re-launch the Capacity-Building Program for US Undergraduate Study which provides institutional grants to US colleges and universities looking to create or expand study abroad programmes.

To extend outreach efforts, investment will be put toward a digital platform to engage with students, parents and the higher education community, including community colleges which account for some 45% of all HE enrolments in the US.

The office will also advocate for greater racial and economic diversity among students who study abroad and to promote non-traditional study destinations.

“The State Department is excited to launch a new US study abroad office that will promote even greater participation in study abroad by US students, who reflect the full diversity of American society,” Ryan told The PIE News.

“A new US study abroad office that will promote even greater participation in study abroad by US students, who reflect the full diversity of American society”

“The Department is eager to advocate alongside both US and foreign higher education professionals, to ensure that our next generation of leaders obtains the knowledge and skills to work side by side with their peers from around the world.”

The announcement was met with optimism by the study abroad community attending the Forum where discussions centred on overcoming common challenges to outbound mobility.

Funding, even down to passport applications, was the most noted barrier along with fear of delayed graduation times and engaging all players on campus including staff, registrars and faculty to advocate for international study.

State Department representatives couldn’t give a definite opening date for the branch other than to say the director will “start shortly”.

This move follows the launch of the Institute of International Education’s $2mn five-year Generation Study Abroad campaign last year which aims to double outbound numbers by 2019. To date, the initiative has acquired 500 education and private partners and recently announced a scheme targeting K-12 teachers.

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