American Education Fair in Libya Signals Growing Student Interest
Washington — Thousands of Libyans aiming to study in the United States attended the “2010 Study in the USA Education Fair” November 6–7 at Al-Fateh University in Tripoli.
More than 30 American educational institutions were represented at the fair, which was a joint effort between the Libyan General People’s Committee for Education and Scientific Research, Linden Educational Services, Al-Fateh University, Waha Expo and Education USA.
Lewis Cardenas, associate director for international student recruitment at Albion College in Michigan, said this is the third year his college is reaching out to students in the Arab world.
“They were some of the friendliest, smartest and engaging students I have encountered in my travels,” Cardenas said of the Libyan students. “A lot of my time at the fair was spent educating families on the college admission process, finding the right fit and answering general questions about campus life.”
The education fair acquainted Libyan students with the information needed to choose the American university and degree program best suited for their needs. About 1,800 Libyans currently study at American universities, and many of them are on full scholarships sponsored by the Libyan government.
Libyan interest in American education reflects a growing trend of first-time foreign graduate students choosing to study in the United States, according to a recently published survey from the Council of Graduate Schools.
“After leveling off last year, it is encouraging to see this year’s growth in first-time international graduate enrollment,” Debra W. Stewart, the council’s president, said in a press release. “As international students consider a world of options, this increase shows they continue to perceive a graduate degree from a U.S. institution as a good value.”
Abdulhadi Almrabat, president of the Libyan Students Association, American branch, said his country promotes postgraduate study overseas to fill university faculty positions and to bring technology know-how back to their country.
For example, after completing a master’s degree in France, Almrabat returned to Libya and taught at Al-Tahadi University in Serte for two years before heading to America to work on his doctoral degree at the Colorado School of Mines.
“The technology and education in the United States is great,” Almrabat said. “We are a developing country and the main source of our income is oil and gas and the technology of oil and gas is here in the United States.”
Agnes Hoffman, associate vice provost for enrollment management and student affairs, Portland State University in Oregon, said the university has a long history of reaching out to students in the Arab world. In recent years, up to 35 students from Libya have been enrolled in the university.
“Our interest in the Middle East is exemplified in the Portland State Middle East Studies Center, which was established in the 1960s,” Hoffman said. “Our president [Wim Wiewel] and faculty probably make more visits to this region than any other to continue research and other scholarly partnerships.”
Anne Schneller, coordinator of sponsored student recruitment at Michigan State University, said 11 percent of the school’s 47,000-strong student body is from overseas. And a sizable portion of international students come from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Gulf states and Libya.
While students from Arab countries choose Michigan State for its academic programs, its community — both on and off campus — is also a draw.
“We have an active Islamic Center and mosque across the street from campus, where Muslims from all over the world [and the U.S.] can meet for worship and other activities,” Schneller said. “Some Middle Eastern students have family connections in the Detroit area, which has a large Arabic-speaking population.”
Ibrahim Greiby, president of the newly formed Libyan Student Association at Michigan State, said Libyan students face a language barrier in America. He said Libyan schools need to emphasize teaching English for students to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) — requirements for foreign students who plan to study at American universities.
“Some students go back because there are challenges with the TOEFL and the GRE because our system in Libya is not strong in English,” Greiby said. “That’s why when I came in 2006, even though my English was good, I passed the TOEFL but I had a challenge with the GRE because it is a very tough exam.”
Concerns over a language barrier may be coming to an end. Schneller said she has seen the level of English proficiency rise on Libyan applications over the past three years. Libyan students are also learning about America at an earlier age.
“The younger students [currently in high school] have increasing opportunities for short-term visits to the U.S. [such as the Space Camp program], which makes them more interested in further study in the U.S.,” Schneller said.
By M. Scott Bortot
16 November 2010
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)