Manuel Cereijo

September 2001

The large and increasing percentage of graduate students in U.S. engineering schools who are foreign-born is a noteworthy development of the last twenty years. Opinions differ widely as to whether this is beneficial to engineering schools, to the U.S. engineering profession, or the nation. This fact must be carefully analyzed and evaluated, as far as the selection process, in view of the recent terrorist events.

There are some who consider the willingness of U.S. graduate schools of engineering to accept large numbers of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and visiting faculty members from foreign countries, several of them in the terrorist group of nations, an act of folly.

Certainly, most of these graduate students enroll in very sensitive and "terrorist interest areas" fields, such as: network security, computer networking, bioengineering, microelectronics.

Does the presence of foreign graduate students cause a significant problem on grounds of national security?

Engineering education and research are in a very special position vis-à-vis the U.S. national security interests. The results of engineering research are very visibly and palpably relevant to the economic and military objectives of "enemy countries". A large portion of these engineering students come from non-friendly countries.

Policy makers must balance a number of considerations in dealing with the implications of the participation of foreign students in research that bears on national security.They need to weigh the importance of "secure" research against the importance of open research. They have to consider the immediate obstacles to ongoing research that are created by the exclusion of foreign students in relation to the possibility that participation by foreign students will damage U.S. national security.

The high numbers and proportions of foreign graduate students should cause more concern because excessive dependency on foreign students is not in the U.S. national interest.


In the year 2000, 65% of full time graduate engineering students were foreign students. Main countries of origin were: PRC, Arab countries, India, Pakistan, and Cuba, since 1992.

SOURCE: Institute of International Education, New York.

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