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US: 65% of students from emerging markets look beyond political climate

The current US political climate has little effect on the interest of more than half (65%) of prospective students from emerging markets in Africa, Central America, and South America when considering the country for study abroad, a survey has found. However, students have raised concerns around visas and support services at US institutions.

A mere 7% of almost 3,500 Brazilian respondents to the survey said the "unfriendly political environment" was a concern when considering study in the US. Photo: pixabay

9% of respondents said they were "more interested in studying in the US" due to its current political climate

Analysing responses of 12,300 international students from emerging markets including Nigeria, Mexico and Brazil, the Intead/ FPP EDU Media ‘Know Your Neighborhood Emerging Markets Fall 2019’ report sought to understand the motivators, concerns, influencers, and areas of interest of prospective students.

Some 9% of respondents said they were “more interested in studying in the US” due to its current political climate, while one in four (25%) stating that they don’t like what they see happening in the country.

“There are Euro-American perspectives on the current administration’s rhetoric, and then there are others”

However, the US brand remains “strong, and students continue to apply and enrol”, the report read.

Speaking with The PIE News, Intead CEO Benjamin Waxman noted that there is “more acceptance of both the Trump administration and US violent crime reported in the news” by those students surveyed.

“After three years of the Trump administration, there just might be a level of recognition that, overall, the US and global systems of governance have withstood the initial shock and are for better or worse, continuing on,” he said.

Particularly in the case of some emerging markets, prospective international students may be more accepting of the current political climate in the US, Waxman indicated.

“There are Euro-American perspectives on the current administration’s rhetoric, and then there are others.

“In general, it appears that those who live in countries with higher rates of authoritarianism, corruption or crime may be taking the current US administration in stride more easily than others,” he explained.

While students noted safety concerns as influencing their study abroad decisions in earlier versions of the Intead report, there was more concern with being able to access visas in the latest findings.

US visa regulations have tightened in the past and then loosened again, Waxman said.

“The current administration is interpreting the rules in a much stricter way, and a larger percentage of student applications are being denied than in the past,” he told The PIE.

“That does not stop ambitious students from pursuing their dreams. However, it does stem the flow of international students in the near term.

“The economic and civic power of education can only be squelched for so long. The current visa scenario will change,” he added.

Given the US administration’s rhetoric and activity, it makes sense that students from countries such as Tunisia and Morocco have some of the highest concern for visa success.

Difficulty obtaining a visa was raised by 64% of Moroccan respondents and 62% of Tunisians, the report showed.

The survey also noted that despite students expressing less inclination for US studies in previous surveys, students “did not actually follow through” with what they said.

The 8% dip in Mexican students coming to the US between 2017 and 2018, although significant, was a “far cry” from the 80% of students who used the 2017 survey to voice their discontent.

Additionally, the report highlights the need for US institutions to be effective in their messaging to prospective students.

“Messaging is important [to students] and it must be presented creatively to stand out”

As well as staying on top of issues students are likely to care about such as immigration, work visa policies and currency exchange rates, it is essential for messaging to “acknowledge political realities”, as ignoring the political climate may be read as an agreement with certain attitudes.

“Messaging is important, and it must be presented creatively to stand out from all the others institutions seeking to do the same,” Waxman explained.

“There are many motivating factors that prompt prospective students to take the leap,” he said, adding that effective examples include Northeastern University’s response to the US Administration’s travel ban orders in 2017-2018.

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