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More foreigners seek US graduate degrees

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Mar 24 (Reuters) More foreigners applied to US graduate schools for 2006 autumn classes, reversing two years of declines caused by visa delays due to increased post-September 11 security, according to a new report.

The number of overseas applicants who sought US graduate degrees this year shot up 11 percent. The number of overseas applicants edged down 5 percent last year and plunged 28 percent the year before that.

But only 49,184 foreign graduate students were enrolled in U.S. universities in 2004, according to the most recent data available.

That is a more than 14 percent drop from 2001, according to Stuart Heiser, a spokesman for the Washington, DC-based Council of Graduate Schools.

''That is a problem,'' he said yesterday. ''Obviously, if there are fewer students, there is less revenue, less research going on, and less of a chance of a significant breakthrough or innovation.'' Heiser said the nonprofit group of 450 US and Canadian graduate schools did not collect applicant data before 2003.

In addition to visa delays after the September 11 attacks, the drop in enrollees also reflected increased competition for graduate students from other countries, notably India and China, he added.

Both the US economy and its graduate schools owe some of their strength to overseas students -- especially if they find jobs or create them at research-driven firms located near their alma maters.

Some 68 percent of graduating PhD students say they will stay or intend to do so, Heiser said, citing a separate 2004 study by the National Science Foundation.

Jay Halfond, a dean at Boston University, said the university needed the foreign students.

''Generally, they are full-time, full-paying students and generally are very high-quality so the bottom line academically is very positive as well,'' he said.

The number of foreigners seeking advanced engineering degrees shot up 17 percent this year while life sciences chalked up a 16 percent rise, the Council said. In contrast, business programs only drew 7 percent more applicants.

India contributed the biggest increase in overseas applicants with a 23 percent rise, followed by China, which saw a 21 percent gain. The ranks of West Asian candidates grew 4 percent, with those from Korea rising 3 percent.

Reuters DH VP0618

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