“International exchanges advance US interests for the long term”

The Hill

“The U.S. Congress is on the verge of making a decision that could affect America’s strategic interests for decades. The House Appropriations Committee held a hearing last week to consider funding for one of America’s best tools for building support for the United States around the world: Bringing students, teachers, journalists, and rising leaders from around the world to study as well as learn about the United States and democratic values. 

“As strong believers in U.S. government programs that are both effective and cost effective, we urge the Congress to protect U.S. national interests for the long term by eschewing the…proposed cut of 50 percent to these programs.

“We believe a cut of this magnitude would cede advantage to strategic competitors, lose international market share to foreign universities, and forego important means to shape the strategic landscape for many years to come.  The United States has invested in these programs for decades…to powerful and lasting effect.

“…International exchange is an important, undervalued, and strategic investment that benefits the United States.  Many of the international students who study in the United States, or other professionals who spend time here through exchange programs, go home to become leaders in their countries.  

“These future decision makers become more understanding and supportive of U.S. interests after their time here. Alumni of U.S. international education programs include 565 current or former heads of foreign governments, 82 Nobel Prize winners, and 89 members of the U.S. Congress. Other participants are less famous — but no less consequential. 

“…Moreover, international exchange helps instill a commitment to values of free speech, open discourse, human rights, and independent thinking that underpins vibrant democracies.  At a time when democracy is under siege, exposing people to our democratic system creates a global network of ambassadors for democratic institutions. For all the complexities and flaws of our own democratic process, people who are exposed to it are often persuaded by democracy’s attributes.

“International exchange is an also excellent return on investment in terms of its economic benefits…As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross commented in May when awarding one of the president’s export awards, international education is America’s seventh largest export industry. These economic benefits are widespread: All 50 states and the District of Columbia host exchange participants.

“While the United States is currently the most popular destination for international students, our country operates within a fierce global competition for talent.  Many countries recognize the strategic and economic benefits of hosting international students. Countries from Australia to the United Kingdom offer attractive programs at world renowned universities, and China included an international student component in its Belt Road Initiative, which aims to extend Chinese influence. 

“Meanwhile, exchanges mean Americans learn about the world and bring that knowledge home.  We should expand not cut these tools that help Americans be more competitive in the world.

“All these benefits come for a small price.  The international affairs budget is only 1 percent of the entire federal budget. And of that 1 percent, just .018 percent of the international affairs budget goes to U.S. Department of State sponsored international exchanges.

“America should not cede its position as a world leader in international educational exchange.  The proposed reductions would yield little in terms of reducing the federal budget, but would carry a heavy cost to the United States.  We urge the House and Senate to support federal funding for international education exchanges — or endanger a strategic asset that other countries will quickly seize.”

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