Published November 11, 2014

"For more than 70 years, U.S. higher education has been one of the strongest competitors for the global talent needed to lead the innovation economy. But this position can no longer be taken for granted."

Virtually all universities are global institutions in the 21st century. And I’m proud to say this has been the case for the University at Buffalo since the beginning. Even our first entering cohort in 1846 included a significant international population—two of the 18 members of that class were Canadian students from just over the border!

Today, UB is one of the world’s leading global universities. We have approximately 80 exchange agreements with universities all over the world. And for the past decade, we have ranked among the top 20 U.S. universities for international enrollment.

As an international university, it’s vital for us to always be thinking about what we do, and why it matters, in a global context. Our impact extends far beyond our campus borders: what we do is felt in our region, across our state and nation, and worldwide. We help drive the global conversation about the issues that matter to our students, faculty, and staff—and the larger communities we serve.

Last month, I had the opportunity to contribute to that conversation at an international forum celebrating the 40th anniversary of World Education Services, a non-profit organization supporting international students and immigrants planning to study or work in the U.S. and Canada. This anniversary forum was focused on the critical connection between international students and economic development.

As president of an internationalized American university, I am keenly aware of how important it is for higher education institutions to attract and retain the best students, faculty, and researchers from around the world. And as co-chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, I am equally aware of how critical this global talent is to our broader communities—locally, statewide, nationally, and worldwide.

According to a recent Brookings Institution study, the Buffalo Niagara metropolitan area ranks among the top 15 U.S. destinations for international students--a source of tremendous economic, social, and cultural vitality for our region. As a recent Buffalo News article pointed out, keeping this talent in the region has long been a greater struggle, but Buffalo's economic resurgence can have a tremendous impact in ensuring that we not only recruit but retain more global talent in Western New York.

U.S. leadership as a magnet for global talent cannot be taken for granted

The number of international students at U.S. universities reached an all-time high of nearly 820,000 in 2012-13. In the past year, these students and their families contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy. In Western New York alone, UB’s 5,800+ international students contribute nearly $120 million and support over 1,650 jobs annually.

“We must continue to expand our capacity to attract and retain the most talented students, scholars, and faculty to our universities and our communities.”

For more than 70 years, U.S. higher education has been one of the strongest competitors for the global talent needed to lead the innovation economy. But this position can no longer be taken for granted. Today, the U.S. ranks 3rd in the world, behind top-ranked Switzerland and Singapore. And despite having the largest number of international students, the U.S. share of international students worldwide has been steadily declining—from 28% in 2001 to 19% in 2012. At the same time, countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada have seen significant growth in their international student populations—thanks primarily to proactive recruitment strategies and progressive immigration policies.

The U.S. would do well to emulate the example of some of these other nations. And we have taken some strides in this direction. Last year, the United States Senate passed comprehensive legislation that would help reverse these trends by uncapping limits on green cards and H1-B visas for our best and brightest graduates. Our own member, Senator Charles Schumer, led that effort because he understands the importance of international students to our nation’s institutions and the communities they serve.

Higher education provides the critical link

Of course, immigration policy is not the only factor at stake for the U.S. Our dependence on global talent points, at least in part, to the need to develop more of our own domestic talent. We need to do a better job of educating our own American students, particularly in the critically important STEM fields, so that they are prepared to compete successfully in a global marketplace. And higher education institutions have a vital leadership role to play in partnering with K-12 schools to ensure that our students enter college, and the post-graduate marketplace, ready to thrive professionally.

Addressing this domestic need is and must be a key priority for U.S. education. But in the meantime, we must also continue to expand our capacity to attract and retain the most talented students, scholars, and faculty to our universities and our communities.

We need to ensure that the U.S. remains a magnet for the best global talent—and the businesses and industries they help drive. International students and scholars are vital to our universities, and to the communities we serve locally as well as globally. And higher education institutions provide critical leadership in driving the conversation about just how important this global talent is to U.S. prosperity—now and for the future.

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