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For Claus, who is among the leading experts on the subject, the political undertone for these rules is obvious. "The U.S. is having a less mature or less seasoned response [to terrorism] -- it's more like a 'close all the doors and the problem goes away' approach," she says. And closing the doors to international participation and research is exactly what the academic community does not want.
Some politicians, however, say that these rules are exactly what the United States needs. "I would suggest the standard we should use is that Chinese students are free to come here as long as they're studying poetry and [free] enterprise, and not high-tech systems that could have dual use," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) said at an April 14 joint hearing of the House Armed Services and the International Relations committees.
"These rules presuppose that what is happening in U.S. classrooms is not happening elsewhere," Claus says. She believes the assumption that technology can be permanently kept in the United States is a false one that over time will cost America in terms of both scientific progress and academic performance.
Ph.D. student Ravi Kolluri, for example, hopes to return to India in several years, and says he will have no problem finding work in 3-D imaging there, because that technology, along with most computer- and science-related technologies, is globally available. In fact, many of the technologies that the U.S. is attempting to license originated abroad and are widely available on the Internet. By isolating the international community and therefore limiting future research and scientific achievements, these rules work against prevailing modes of scientific advance. Everything from space travel to cures for disease has been built and implemented by an international coalition of scientists. "These rules threaten to destroy that," Claus says.
Aside from the promise of scientific achievement that universities associate with international cooperation, there could be a distinct and powerful economic impact from reducing foreign participation at the university level.
According to the Institute for International Education, international student applications are already down 30 percent from 2003 in the United States, while applications to universities in India, China, and the United Kingdom are on the rise. In 2003, the 572,509 international students in the United States contributed nearly $13 billion to the U.S. economy. California alone received $1.8 billion from its international student population.
But the economic impact of reduced research goes far beyond the amounts of money foreign students spend while attending U.S. universities. "We are threatening to cut ourselves off at the knees," Claus says. If future U.S. research is crippled by lack of international involvement, major advancements will be made elsewhere first and, Claus says, "by our own insistence."
"There will be an obvious economic impact on universities and on the economy, but the larger impact will be the adverse effect these rules have on education," Claus says. She believes that one reason America continues to be a major player in the advancement of science and technology is because the U.S. has always been open to international participation in research and education. "That has carried us very, very far," she says. "And it has contributed to technological revolutions that have advanced our economy."
Debra Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, says that 50 percent of graduate students studying science and engineering in the U.S. are international students, nearly half of whom are from countries of concern. And limiting their access could also eventually threaten the access of American students to scientific training. If international applications steadily decrease, Rachel Claus notes, class sizes will also inevitably drop and courses that were once full may eventually be too small to be offered at all.
As the 60-day discussion period goes on mostly unnoticed, many worry that at this point, nothing can be done about the proposed regulation of foreign students as deemed exports. For students and educators alike, the rules seem stifling and unfair.
After thinking about the potential rules for several weeks, Gupta now says he intends to submit a comment to the Department of Commerce. "I still just don't think this can happen. But maybe I will get my MBA instead," he said with a shrug as he packed up his book bag and headed back to the Clark Kerr dormitory.
While Gupta is already considering a new career path, Claus warns that rules like these have been dangerous in the past. "When the Third Reich was emerging, they said that only Germans of pure Aryan descent could attend German universities. Significant numbers of German scholars departed," she says. "That was detrimental for Germany, but was glorious for the U.S.
"We got Einstein."