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US gun violence deterring students as safety concerns grow

Gun violence in the US is deterring international students from studying in the country, experts say it experiences another spate of shootings. 

American gun violence is the subject of global media attention. Photo: Unsplash.

Prospective students are increasingly concerned about their safety

Five people were killed in an attack on a Colorado nightclub on November 20, followed by the death of six others at a shooting in a Virginia Walmart store three days later. In total 617 mass shootings (where four or more people are killed) have taken place so far this year in the US. 

Sector insiders say that American gun violence, which is the subject of global media attention, is becoming more of a problem for the country’s international education industry as prospective students are increasingly concerned about their safety. 

Grace Zhu, China branch director at BONARD, told The PIE that safety concerns among Chinese families have become “more severe” in recent years when it comes to studying in the US. 

“We have seen more and more media reports about violent crimes, including some directed against American minorities,” Zhu said. “This situation has prompted discussion among the American Chinese community as well as criticism of the American gun control policy.” 

A recent survey of Chinese families conducted by BONARD found that 57% of parents and 46% of students were concerned about crime when studying abroad. 

Zhu said that violent incidents in recent years, such as the shooting of a Chinese student at the University of Chicago last year, have led some students to turn to alternative destinations.  

The number of Chinese students choosing to study in the US dropped during the 2021-21 academic year, but China remains the top source market for international students in the US. 

“If safety issues cannot be better addressed, the US will definitely lose out on the Chinese market,” Zhu said. 

William Gertz, chairman of the American Institute for Foreign Study, said, “While the number of our international students enrolling in high schools and colleges in the US remains strong, we are concerned with mass shootings and gun violence.

“This is a ‘slow drip’ rather than a torrent with more students asking questions and some diverting to destinations which are perceived to be safer – for example, Canada,” he added.

A recent survey of international students in Canada found that the country’s reputation as a safe country was one of the key factors students considered when choosing where to study. 

“Parents of our students ask more questions than the students themselves,” Gertz said. “We cover gun safety in our orientations with students and host families.”

Despite these concerns, the risk for international students is low, said Pieter Vermeulen, director of international recruitment at the University of North Texas

“It is extremely rare for an international student in the US to be affected by gun violence”

“Gun ownership in America is high. Thankfully it is extremely rare for an international student in the US to be affected by gun violence. Many American universities are located in affluent neighbourhoods less affected by street crime,” Vermeulen said. 

“And we take the security of our students very seriously. American campus police are among the best-trained and well-equipped security professionals in the world. And keep in mind that out in public international students in America often experience no higher security risks than in their country of origin.

“Students preparing to study abroad receive their information about the US not only from the media, but also through word of mouth from students currently in the US, from diaspora communities in the US, etc – so they are able to put incidents in the media in context.

“I would hate for an international student to forgo the opportunity of a US education out of an exaggerated safety concern,” Vermeulen commented.

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