Skip to comments.Schools compete for thousands of Saudi students
Posted on 08/20/2006 5:09:36 PM PDT by PghBaldy
MANHATTAN, Kan. - On a recent afternoon at Kansas State University, a familiar set of late-summer rituals were under way. Piccolo and tuba players practiced their formations in clusters on the lawn, and fraternity hopefuls started Rush Week.
This semester, the central Kansas agricultural powerhouse was also preparing for its first-ever celebration of Ramadan to welcome the newest members of its student body: 150 students from Saudi Arabia.
This school year, college towns from Florida to Oregon will host an estimated 15,000 new Saudi students, nearly all of whom have full scholarships paid for by the Kingdom's royal family. They're part of a new exchange program brokered by President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah last year that will soon quintuple the number of Saudi students studying in the United States.
The U.S. State Department sees the exchange as a way to build ties with future Saudi leaders and young scholars at a time of unsteady relations with the Muslim world. The Kingdom says it will help stem unrest at home by schooling the country's brightest in the American tradition.
And public universities are eager for the tuition dollars.
"The Saudi scholarship program has definitely heightened our interest in that part of the world," said Kenneth Holland, Kansas State's associate provost for international programs. "Not only are the students fully funded, but they're also paying out-of-state tuition."
Many scholarship holders have already spent a year in the U.S. studying English, and are excelling in their studies, by most reports. But one former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security says efforts to fast-track educational diplomacy with the Muslim world should bear scrutiny, unless the government can ensure the proper safeguards are in place.
Industrial engineering student Marwan Al-Kadi grew up in Medina, the site of one of Islam's holiest shrines. After four years studying in the U.S., he's shared Thanksgiving turkeys with friends in Abilene and wears his dark hair long and curly, a bit like a character from "That 70s Show.
"As an advice, my dad told me to pick a small town so I came to Manhattan," he said, lounging in a cafe near campus, as his cell phone rang intermittently. "My English was messed up when I came. But there are very kind people here."
Al-Kadi said the government scholarship gives him about $31,000 per year to study and pay for a room in a house he shares with three other students. Saudi Embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir said 90 percent of the 10,229 Saudi students the U.S. State Department has registered for this school year will also get scholarships.
By January, U.S. government officials say the program will expand to 15,000, which means Saudi Arabia will send more foreign students to the U.S. than Mexico or Turkey.
"This is a critically important bilateral relationship," said Tom Farrell, a deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the State Department. "It's an opportunity to increase understanding of Saudi Arabia for the United States and of the United States for Saudi Arabia."
Kansas State administrators say common misperceptions about the oil-rich nation make it crucial to create a tolerant environment for Arab and Muslim students, who have been singled out for scrutiny and have been the focus of new laws compromising their civil liberties since September 11.
Before then, Saudi visa applicants were allowed to bypass the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh by submitting their applications to preapproved travel agencies, which forwarded them onto the consulate for approval or rejection. Three of the 15 Saudi terrorists used that program, dubbed "Visa Express," to enter the U.S.
"Since then, everything has changed," said Saudi government spokesman Al-Jubeir. "There are long lines to wait for a visa. Once they get in to a university here, they are checked and rechecked."
In 2002, Congress mandated that the Department of Homeland Security create the "Visa Security Officer" program in consular offices in Saudi Arabia. That would bump up security by allowing counterterrorism officials to check visa applications against lists of known or suspected terrorists, said Clark Kent Ervin, who took over as the department's Inspector General in 2003.
That same year, Congress also instituted the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System or SEVIS, which monitors all foreign students' activities - including where they live, whether they go to class, and whether they finish their studies.
All foreign students are tracked on that program, which Kansas State administrator Holland said made him feel "very comfortable."
So after a formal reception with Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. last semester, Kansas State officials sat down with diplomats to plan a trip to the Saudi Embassy in Washington to review more qualified students' files.
"We'll provide you with an office, there will be secretaries there to help you," Saudi cultural attache Mazyed Ibrahim Almazyed told the group. "You can have people bring you all the files. You'll be right there and we can show you what we have."
Kansas State University President Jon Wefald nodded his head.
"This is going to get us right through the State Department," he said.
"Plan on spending at least two days there," he told the department heads around the table.
"Don't forget the real decision makers, for example the local representatives in Congress," said Almazyed.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office presented Congress with a report on security in U.S. consular offices in Saudi Arabia. According to the GAO, the 10 temporary Visa Security Officers sent there in 2004 lacked any specialized training in counterterrorism, fraud detection and interview techniques.
By summer 2005, DHS had hired and trained four permanent employees for the post, but only two of them spoke Arabic. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of DHS, said all VSOs are now trained in visa security and that many staffers had 10 years experience in law enforcement. The department offers language training only "as necessary," he added.
Former DHS inspector general Ervin cites that as one of several ways in which the U.S. has mismanaged counterterrorism efforts since September 11 in his book, "Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack."
"The Department of Homeland Security is so inept and the VSO program is in its infancy, so fraud is entirely possible with students or anyone applying for visas from Saudi Arabia," he said.
The GAO reports the VSO program has expanded to Pakistan, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines. DHS spokesman Dean Boyd said he could not provide details about its reach.
The electronic monitoring program, SEVIS, appears to be working well, though the blips it's caught recently illustrate the cultural gulf between the exchange students it tracks and their American hosts.
In May, two Saudi scholarship students monitored under SEVIS were held in solitary confinement in a county jail after riding a public school bus they thought would take them to their English classes at the University of South Florida.
"They thought they were allowed to ride it to take it to the university and people were making accusations like this was a dry run for a real terrorist attack," said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Tampa, Fla., office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "These youth are paying the price for things that they have no connection to. They're going to be the future in Saudi Arabia."
For Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education in New York, the new bilateral agreement is a "tremendously positive" step toward person-to-person diplomacy.
"These 15,000 students will really jump start education and that will be a great addition to the Kingdom," said Goodman. "At its base, it's about mutual understanding."
Will sell soul for tuition dollars.
Any girls in this? Or are they at home, illiterate, being beaten up???
Mark my words, the next big terrorist attack will occur on college campuses. The one place where Middle Eastern types easily blend in, and can move freely about while you have large auditoriums where students attend lectures.
How many of the 15,000 scholars are female?
I'd bet not one.
Here in PA, tuition for folks like this is THREE TIMES in-state tuition rates. It's all about the money, apparently.
Furthermore, given the Hate America orientation of most college profs, these Arabs will be as thoroughly indoctrinated with pseudo-marxist pro-terrorist anti-American bilge as they would be in the average madrassah back home.
This BS should have ended on 9-12-01, dammit! This is national suicide, and anotehr part of W's "wide open borders" policy. The invasion continues, unabated.
Keep on eye on your daughters, especially if they're blonde.
By all rights we shouldnt allow any of these people in the country.
How many of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis?
Isn't it lovely to see Bush and his boyfriend working hard to subvert American culture and values. Mr President, we don't need MORE Muslims in the United States. I am so sick of this Arab-loving Bush clan.
That's all the further I needed to read.
Ambitious college-aged girls in Saudi Arabia just hang around getting stoned.
How many Americans are going to Saudi to be indoctrinated in Wahabism as part of this "exchange" program?
But, I would NOT be surprised if THEIR tuition is half the cost of in-state tuition!
I'm speechless. Did Bush also broker that Mexican border thingy?
Also I've never met one Middle Eastern student that was female. Wonder how many girls are in Bush's new "brokered" bunch of sudents?
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