The ‘Science & Engineering Indicators’ report, published every two years, is based on government-held SEVIS visa data but excludes those students who are participating in OPT.
The latest data showed that between 2016 and 2017, the total number of international students enrolled in the US at graduate level fell from 389,310 to 367,920 (-5.5%).
62% of all international students in graduate programs were enrolled in S&E fields
In S&E fields, graduate student numbers dropped 6% from 244,040 to 229,310, with the decline concentrated mainly across computer sciences (down from 70,600 to 61,500) and engineering (96,300 to 89,000).
The report found that 62% of all international students in graduate programs were enrolled in S&E fields, with India and China accounting for 69% of the total followed by Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the number of international students enrolled in the US at undergraduate level fell from 450,850 to 440,720 (-2%) as of fall 2017.
However, the decline in international undergraduate enrollment was shown to be the result of a decline in enrollment in non-S&E fields as undergraduate enrollment in S&E fields held steady over this period.
International visa holders studying undergraduate computer sciences and mathematics were shown to have increased by 11% and 5% respectively, but declined in non-S&E fields (4%).
China, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, and Kuwait were the top countries sending S&E undergraduates to the US as of fall 2017.
International students enrolled at HEIs in the US 2012-2017. Image: nsf.gov
Due to the current political climate and uncertain immigration policies, some experts in the field of STEM have voiced concerns for the future of US graduate S&E programs, which are heavily populated by international students.
Others have pointed to increasing competition from countries such as China for the global share of S&E activities.
Maria Zuber, NSB chair and vice president for Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the 2018 report shows a trend that the US still leads the way in many aspects of science and technology, but that the lead is decreasing in certain important areas.
“[This] trend raises concerns about impacts on our economy and workforce and has implications for our national security,” she said.
“From gene editing to artificial intelligence, scientific advancements come with inherent risks. And it’s critical that we stay at the forefront of science to mitigate those risks.”
In December 2017, the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy said it will consider restricting international students from certain designated countries who wish to study STEM subjects in the US in order to prevent technology transfer and intellectual property theft.