The title of this new report from the Kaufman Foundation tells you a lot about its conclusions. The authors, Vivek Wadhwa, AnnaLee Saxenian, Richard Freeman, and Alex Salkever used a Facebook based approach to interview over a thousand foreign national students at US institutions of higher education. The report does not claim to be definitive in any way: it was not designed with random choice of interviewees, does not have a longitudinal component, etc. However, it does make some very important points that will probably resonate with many of us who come into contact with international students on a regular basis.
The title also lets you know that this is part of a Kaufman Foundation series looking at immigrant entrepreneurship in the US. As stated in the press release for this report:
Many of these immigrant entrepreneurs arrived in this country as students, were trained at US institutions of higher education, and stayed here to follow their dreams. Thus, the future plans and aspirations of members of the current generation of international students are likely to have important implications for the health of the US economy in the future. This report has good news and bad news on that front.
First, on the good news front, the students surveyed thought very highly of their US education, and felt it was better than that available in their home countries. They found Americans to be friendlier than they expected. Overwhelmingly, they would advise their friends to study in the US. And happily, visa problems were not considered to be a major impediment to study in the US.. Unfortunately, cost was considered to be a major impediment, and respondents said it was preventing many of their friends from attending US institutions. Most wanted to work in the US for a time after graduation, with the bad news being that the largest proportion expected to leave in 5 years.
A very large percentage of the students surveyed had aspirations for an entrepreneurial future:
indicated that they wished to start a business within the next decade.
On the bad news front, a slight majority of the Indian and Chinese students hoped to start those businesses in their home countries. The top reasons given by these students for wanting to return was a desire to be nearer to friends and family, and the expectation that the economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurial opportunities would be better in the future in their own countries than in the US.
By contrast, most European students who wanted to start a business wanted to do it in the US. Although they were not positive concerning US growth in the future, they were more negative concerning the economic future of Europe.
There is a lot of useful, albeit not “hard”, information contained in this survey. I read the report as basically positive. The students main reason for not staying in the US is not a major negative “push” from us, but a positive “pull” created by the growing economies in their own countries. Thus, their plans may change as economic conditions change - the survey was taken in October 2008, hardly the most settled of times for the making of economic plans. In addition, as the authors conclude, the data suggest that US policies that seek to retain entrepreneurial international graduates might well be effective.