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Students Not Interested in a "Nation in Decline"

Tapmag, a blog by students of the JFK-Institute for North America Studies at the Free University, Berlin, writes:

One indicator for the influence of a nation in the world is the number of people willing to devote their academic career to the studies of said nation. According to this measure, the future isn't looking very bright for the United States, if you follow this article in Time magazine. Applications for American Studies have significantly dropped in Great Britain in the last years, even though regional studies are still in fashion.

Okay, now the kids want to learn Chinese, so that they can talk to the next superpower. Fine. Let's see, if they are happy with that decision in three decades.

I am more concerned about this quote from the Walter Grünzweig, professor of American studies at Dortmund University: "Students don't trust us. We have to convince them that we're not part of the propaganda branch of the American Embassy."

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Zyme on :

Well I have never heard anyone who assumed the American educational system to be connected with its political propaganda branch. Valid though is the point that other countries are becoming more interesting. As soon as the opportunity arises, I for example will be far more interested in getting Russia to know than the USA. Practically anyone I talked about this issue prefers countries like France, Italy, Spain, Britain or Japan to the USA. The political disputes of the past decade have practically discredited America from being a desireable spot. Another reason is that people here are concerned about treatment of foreigners in the USA by the security staff - especially at air ports. The mere mentioning of someone who knows someone who was sent straight back home upon arrival due to nebulous suspicion is deterring. Last but not least lazyness plays a role in the form of Visa regulations. While as a German you can live without a Visa in the entire EU for as long as you like and in Japan for example you can stay for six months, in the USA a visa is needed.

Pat Patterson on :

Why then has net migration to Germany gone from 4.01 per 100,000 in 2000 to 2.19 in 2008? Or that migration to the US has gone from 2.92 per 100,000 in 2000 to 3.5 in 2008. Raw numbers would seem to indicate that more people are coming to that less interesting United States than before it supposedly became more difficult. Or that tourism to the US has increased by slightly over 19% from 51.2 million in 2000 to 56.7 million in 2008. And for every European that decides to not come to the US to study there are probably at least 2 or 3 from China, India, Japan and Vietnam that do want to come.

Zyme on :

I am not sure about the trade development between Northern America and Asia - isn't it increasing? That would reflect a growing importance and attraction by its respective students. My explanation (just like the original article for this thread) was about European students - their shrinking numbers reflect a reducing importance and attraction of the USA for students here.

Pat Patterson on :

Should have read that tourism has increased by 11% not 19%.

Don S on :

It can't be denied that the US is at the beginning of the long slide, which will result in the US being poorer than friggin' Sudan, and New York less interesting than Ulan Bator. We, the reduced Yankee inperialist scum, will simply have to learn to live with our reduced circumstancs and squat in our grass huts while the truly advanced and enlightened countries of the world (Russia, China, Germany, and Outer Mongolia) leap ahead of us. LOL!

Zyme on :

Finally someone who tells us what this is all about :D

Don S on :

And to think, this lesson in Historical Trends has been delivered by a generation of fuzzy-cheeked European Youth not old enough to shave. Aggggghh the Humiliation! Funny, I kind of remember something like this before, delivered during the 70's. The US was also past it then. The Lessons of History (as Written by Marx) Demanded It. Also delivered by European (and American) fuzzy-cheeked Youth. I wonder how that prediciton worked out?

Don S on :

The side link has a piece from the UK Teleraph about a huge brewing currency crisis, one which may make the US sub-prime crisis appear a Smart car versus a Mercedes lorry by comparison. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/3260052/Europe-on-the-brink-of-currency-crisis-meltdown.html Hungary, Ukraine, and Serbia are going to IMF, and Austrian banks have heavy exposure - and little EU-level coverage. could a reprise of the Credit-Anstahlt collapse of 1931 (which set off the global banking crisis that year) be in play? The article documents the rise of an emerging market bubble, to which Europe is far more exposed than the EU countries. Austria has exposure equal to 85% of GDP, Switerland 50%, the UK 24%, Spain 23%. The US has exposure of 4% of GDP to this crisis. Wow. For once those crazy risk-takers known as US bankers actually sat a bubble out. It seems that Italy is under pressure, with a 93 basis point gap in yield between German and Italian bonds. Hungary raised interest rates from 3 to 11.5%, and Romania raised overnight interest rates to 900%. Russia isn't in much better shape because of the dive in oil prices. These are figures much akin to the 'Black Wednesday' crash of 1992 which forced the UK out of the ERM - only much, much, much larger, and on a global rather than a European scale. There is something of a meltdown in Latin America as well, with Argentina looking to monetize it's pension funds and Brazilian markets crashing. Spain banks are twice as exposed in absolute terms as US banks are, and much more as a percent of GDP of course. Zapatero's Spain is already dealing with it's own property slump as well. Could Italy and Spain be forced off the euro? If so it may happen very quickly, although not as swiftly as much of Eastern Europe. Brazil comes as a bit of a surprise as well. Was it only a few weeks ago Lula opened his mouth and dismissed this as a 'US problem'? Apparently Western European banks hold 75% of the exposure to $4.7 trillion of exposure, approximately $3.5 trillion in total. Compare this with the catastrophic losses in the US mortgage market, about $600 billion to date and forecast to double by 2010. But the US has two huge advantages here. The losses are denominated in it's own currency which simplifies cleanup immensely. The second advantage is that we've already dealt with a fair part of the problem, as much as 30 or 40% I think. I couldn't work out why the dollar has been so strong the past 6 weeks - but this may show why. China is going to be a winner in the crisis, of course. But the really shocking development is that the US may also be a relative beneficiary of the crisis. Because mortgage crisis or not, the US banking sector may have been the most conservative one on the planet during the global boom.

John in Michigan, USA on :

The economic changes sweeping the globe are such that, even now, I don't think anyone can even make a complete list of all the causes, much less rank the causes as to their true importance. All conclusions must be tentative until enough time has passed to gather and sift through economic data. Remember, most core economic measurements, such as unemployment, GDP growth, and inflation, are backward-looking. Also, they are preliminary, and are often revised months later. Even company financials are subject to revision. That hasn't kept the pundits from jumping to conclusions. The "US no longer a superpower" bubble appears to have peaked and will burst soon. How long before "we were helpless, the US controls everything and is to blame" becomes the new story line? It will be just after the Obama honeymoon ends, or sooner if McCain is elected.

Don S on :

Completely wrong, John. All the best people have been agreed on the source of all the world's ills for many years now; can they all be wrong? I think not. It's Buuuuuussssssshhhhhhh!

John in Michigan, USA on :

Buuush scratches his head and wonders how anyone could mistake him for powerful...

Don S on :

Well that's the paradox, John. He posesses the IQ of an orangutang AND is diabolically cleaver - both at the same time! A little like Reagan in that respect. The movies will have difficulty catching this dichotomy, I suspect. Only Peter Sellers in 'Dr Strangelove' came close, and (alas) Sellers is no longer with us....

Zyme on :

Yeah sure there is the link, as I have put it there - so do not think I would be only critical towards other continents ;P

Don S on :

Those savvy students may be perfectly correct in their way. The cost of a course of US Studies may be rising quickly, assuming that no course in Foreign Studies can be considered complete without a 6-month wanderjahr in the country of one's chosen subject. The dollar, being the debased currency of a doubly debased country, is nevertheless rising like a rocket - particularly against the £, but also the euro. This despite the great wisdom of EU leadership (and particularly Gordon Brown) against the congenital idiocy which is the Birthright of the US. There Ain't No Justice. So a stint in the US costs a lot more than it did 6 months ago. Whereas a stay in sounder, wiser countries such as Russia, Iceland, and (dare I say?) Italy and Spain may soon be relative bargains. I don't think there is much doubt that Spanish PM Zapatero needs to come to Washington DC very quickly during the new administration. The open question is whether this wise solon will be able to leave the begging bowl at home.....

joe on :

This is good. Germans will love dealing with the Chinese. I am sure there is flood of young Germans standing in line to gain entery to China.

Don S on :

Absolutely, joe. If they can afford it. They'll love the air of Bejing.....

John in Michigan, USA on :

Joerg, if you're concerned about the students, think of the administrators! "Suspicion also clouds the thinking of some university administrators. When Gunlög Fur, a professor of history at Sweden's Växjö University, tried to set up an American-studies program, the board of governors turned her down. "I got some fairly confrontational questions," she recalls. "They asked, 'Is this program meant to promote the United States?'" The original post was regarding North America Studies programs [i]not located in America[/i]. Therefore it is hard to see how US Visa requirements, airport security, etc, are inhibiting students. Is a US trip required in order to graduate from these programs? Neither Tapmag nor the Time article has the answer. If American Studies in the UK and Germany is anything like American Studies in the US, it is a refuge for the hard left in academia. Time magazine says "The spirit of critique is so strong among those studying the U.S. that academics now sometimes refer to the subject as anti-American studies." The graph doesn't show it, but I suspect the decline in interest started well before Bush was elected, and is part of a long-term trend. Meanwhile, American pop culture remains as popular as ever. In which case, a decline in interest in American Studies may indicate that students are becoming less anti-American than the generation before them. Also, I wonder if, outside the US, American Studies is a code word for 'subsidized trip to party in America for college credit' At the very least, we should consider if declining interest in American Studies might be due to declining quality and standards in Departments of American Studies, and not entirely due to a declining interest in the topic of America. If a sponsored trip to America is no longer as attractive, what is the point of sitting through hours of pet theories and agitprop (and in the UK, paying top-up fees) when you could be studying something real?

Joe Noory on :

Hasn't FU traditionally been a hotbed of fashionable fantasm and stupidity for decades? Do any of them realize that Nixon went to China decades ago? I've seen the French do the same thing, thinking that some symbolic "opening up" was their native possession.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Sorry, what is "FU"?

Uwe on :

FU stands for Freie University (Free University) in Berlin. For what it is worth: This school is considered one of the Germany's best: [url]http://www.fu-berlin.de/en/info/exzellenzinitiative/index.html[/url]

quo vadis on :

I suspect it's basic supply and demand, the same is true in the US. There is an increasing demand for persons from all disciplines that have expertise in China, but there are few experts currently available. People entering the market are going to skew toward the area with the greatest unsatisfied demand.

Don S on :

Quo, that might be part of it but I think it's more nebulous that that. The UK educational system is sort of the class system with a meritocratic mask laid on top. Employers tend to look at which university a student went to and their grades, and it's not unusual for them to look at A level results (A levels are the exams seconday students take before university). The US equivalent would be SAT Advanced Placement exams. What they don't look at (much) are what you did in college. So for career-driven UK students there are few incentives for them to enter difficult 'quant' subjects like the hard sciences, maths, economics, or even the social sciences. Many more of the best UK students end up in easier subjects where one can 'blag' your way by. These include liberal arts and the various 'studies'. 'Media Studies' are infamous for this, but also various national studies programs. This area is quite fashion-driven, so what this means is that the US has temporarily gone out of fashion with the younger set; an 'American Studies' credential might not impress at the Beeb these days. It really means very little; should the demands of fashion shift many of these 'Chinese Studies' majors will quite happily earn their living dealing with the US; it's not like they majored in Mandarin or Cantonese after all! We're not talking about deep expertise here; perhaps a bit of chinese geography and comparative cultures, maybe some Chinese history also.

rushlevin on :

Hey if you need education listen to mark levin and rush limbaugh. that's all you need to know.

Pat Patterson on :

Or you can stay in Europe and get a twofer. An education in finance and reproductive techniques as an intern at the IMF from Dominique Strauss-Kahn!

Anonymous on :

if was american he would have been forced tom resign. remember what happened at the world bank.paul wolfowitz had to go.

joe on :

But he is not. So this is very aceptable behavior to the euro's besides he is their man.

Kolja on :

Hi, I posted the article on tapmag, Joerg was so friendly to let me know that the discussion is going on over here. Just a few points from the perspective of someone studying (north) american studies in Germany at the moment: Since the introduction of the bachelor degree an exchange semester is required for graduation, although it doesnt necessarily need to take you to the US. before the system change two years ago, no international experience was required at all. Whether that's a good idea is another topic, but it speaks against the idea of choosing the subject for the party qualities abroad. To suggest that is somewhat cynical anyways. Besides, everyone who wants to have a good time is enrolled in media studies or business, there is just too much to read in the humanities or social science... also, the generation that just entered the universities is extremely focused on career chances and future opportunities. maybe it's because they grew up at a time when everybody in Germany always talked about our lack of international competitiveness and the need for young people to focus on career early in life. whatever the reason, students today are younger and have more internships under their belt then students only a generation ago. these kids mean business and they certainly won't choose their major for its party opportunities About the quality issue: There is no overall trend for the educational quality of american studies, at least not from my perspective. The John F. Kennedy Institute and the newly founded Graduate school have seen a lot of new funding in the last years and both schools have attracted distinguished lecturers. At other universities, american studies have problems to raise funds or are replaced or merged with anglistic departments. The reasons are manyfold and cant be broken down to the declining numbers or the decreasing influence of the US in the world. To turn the argument on its head, arent applications for chinese studies increasing in the US right now? I also heard Chinese nannies are in high demand. Why do you think that is, because European studies and European languages offer more future career opportunities for american kids and students? I dont think so. People are simply putting their money where their mouth is.

Don S on :

Welcome, Kolja. You make some interesing points here. An internship in North America need not be in the US. Either Canada or Mexico would be a good choice, and Mexico would be a particularly interesting choice. I don't believe anyone here has actually pilloried the cross-border internships as party time in point of fact, so your defensiveness on this point trifle over-sensitive. Joerg certainly doesn't seem to believe his time in the US was wasted. I did wax a bit sarcastic upon learning that the US is on the power-dive from such a source, but actually am making fun of the entire notion whether it emanates from the youthful or their elders who ought to know better by now. Not to say that China won't overtke the US in time, but the assumption that a country can maintain 10% growth rates for 50 years (which this would require) remains - untested. No country in world history has actually ever done it; historical experience seems to indicate that swiftly growing countries tend to hit a wall sometime between 30 and 40 years into their swift growth phase. Chinese economic liberalisation dates from 1972 or 73, so they are on 35 or 36 years and counting.... There are other factors like demographics which seem to indicate China may have problems maintaining economic growth in the longer term. For an example of the kind of thing which could happen I suggest a look at German economic history between 1848 and 1940. The German Empire seems to have crested economically sometime between 1900 and 1907, and Germany struggled economically and politically for many years after that. China may follow a similar trajectory. My favorite for the country which will ultimately overtake the US is - India. They are currently behind China but catching up, and their political system is far more pluralistic than China's, which seems to promise an ability to ride out the bumps of the trip to supremacy better. The other candidate is the EU, but I think the EU has a LOT of work to do to overtake the US.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Kolja, Thanks for responding to my points. OK, maybe I was wrong when I said the applicants just wanted to party. In my university days, which were 1984-89, only the foreign language programs were hard, all the "area studies" programs were easy, like the media or business programs you talk about. Maybe area studies has changed since the 80's! And in fact as I was graduating I remember my school announced an new International Studies program that looked insanely difficult. Speaking of the 80's...everyone, especially the Europeans, was preaching the myth of American Decline back then. They were certain, certain it was the end. Well "they" were wrong then, and "they" are wrong now. However, it may be that it is now more difficult to study in America, and a little bit less attractive also. I wrote that the graph was from Time magazine but I was wrong, it is from your blog post. You got the data from UCAS, and helpfully linked to their statistics retrieval page. Very cool! Using the UCAS database, I was able to look at the number of applications before 2002. Unfortunately they only let you retrieve 1 year's data at a time, and it looks like they define the data for "American Studies" differently in 1996-2001 as compared to 2002-2007. Ignoring the second problem, it looks like in 1996 there were 970 applications to America Studies in the UK. In 2001 it was nearly the same as in 2002, about 840 according to your graph. So it is interesting to see that the decline in interest started back in the 90's when America was supposedly beloved by all, and growing at a high rate. Perhaps the decline may have accelerated during the Bush years. It is hard to tell without doing more work that I am prepared to do right now. But in the UK at least, the decline existed before Bush, 9/11 and the rest. Thanks for the post.

Kolja on :

Hi John, of course, only because people think the US will lose some influence, doesnt mean that it's going to happen. however, the numbers still give away some insight about young people's attitude towards the US. I think it's safe to say that the US have lost some credit with this generation, especially if the first question about american studies sounds sth like: "is this propaganda?" on the numbers: I tried to find some statistics for Germany, but there is no central agency (at least not for amerian studies) that collects this kind of data. The only thing that comes close to it is the numerus clausus, but it's a lousy indicator because it dependends on much more than just numbers of applications. your remark that the downward trend in applications has started before 9/11 and Bush is very interesting. it's hard to tell what the real trend looks like without looking at the numbers of people graduating from high school and overall applications in these years. but this point definitely adds another turn to the whole story.

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