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US: Federal budget cuts spell trouble for international education programmes

In a dramatic end to the long awaited 2011 federal fiscal year budget passed by the US Congress, the US Department of Education saw its funding for international education and foreign language programmes reduced by 40% (a reduction of USD 50 152 000 or around EUR 35 096 000) from last year’s appropriations. Moreover, the funding cuts resulted in the cancellation of 2011 application cycles for a bevy of noted international programmes such as the

  • EU-US Atlantis programme, which provides grants to promote and implement international curriculum development and exchanges;
  • American Overseas Research Centers, which administer grants to establish research centres promoting postgraduate research and
  • Fulbright-Hays training grants for doctoral dissertation and faculty research abroad.

Nevertheless, the scope of funding cuts to international education programmes varies greatly among different federal departments. The State Department, for example, which funds the Fulbright Program (not to be confused with the Fulbright-Hays grants), saw its 2011 funding reduced by just 5.7%. Similar programmes within the Department of Defense sustained no funding cuts whatsoever.

Meanwhile, not all the international education news out of Washington is about reductions. The government is increasing its efforts to open pathways to employment for skilled workers in highly technical fields. On 12 May 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – under the Department of Homeland Security – expanded its list of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degree programmes which qualify for Optional Practical Training (OPT) extensions. Foreign students who graduate from US higher education institutions within a wider range of these disciplines are now eligible to extend their visas to work in these areas because of their perceived impact on research and innovation in the United States.

US Department of Education - 2011 Fiscal Year Budget

Department of Homeland Security - Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension