MISSION, RGV – Canada’s population is 35 million and in 2013-14 the country sent 28,304 of its students to study in the United States. Mexico’s population is 122 million and in 2013-14 it sent 14,779 students to study in the United States.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar wants to reduce this disparity and have more student exchanges between the U.S. and Mexico. He has added language to an appropriations bill to do it.

“I have added some language to the 2016 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill to get more exchanges of students between the U.S. and Mexico. We actually get more students from Vietnam here than Mexicanos. We have to do a much better job,” said Cuellar, D-Laredo.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

On a recent visit to Reynosa, Mexico, Cuellar spoke to energy executives and academics and gave a list of all the federal programs that are available to help get more Mexican students to study in the United States. One is the U.S.-Mexico Fulbright Program, which was established in 1948. There were 230-plus participants in the Fulbright-Garcia Robles program in 2014. It boasts many Mexican government officials among its alumni.

In his speech, Cuellar said: “In Congress, I have successfully added language to the Fiscal Year 2016 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which supports expansion of programs to increase U.S.-Mexico academic exchanges at the high school, college, and post graduate level.”

Cuellar pointed out that Texas A&M International University in Laredo has entered into an agreement with several Mexican universities including Autonomous University of Nuevo León (UANL), the third largest university in Mexico, to train Mexican students for the oil and gas industry. “Mexican universities should form partnerships with American universities,” Cuellar said, particularly when it comes to the energy industry.

According to the annual Open Doors report on student mobility, 14,779 students from Mexico studied in the United States in the academic year 2013-14, while 3,730 US students studied in Mexico in 2012-13. Canada had 28,304 students studying in the United States in 2014 while Vietnam, which Cuellar referenced in his interview with Rio Grande Valley reporters, had 16,579 students studying in the United States in 2014.

China sent 274,000 students to the United States in 2014 to study, according to Open Doors. India sent 103,000 students and South Korea sent 68.000. These are the top three countries in the world for sending students to the U.S. to study. The students mostly study in the fields of business or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

In May 2013, President Obama and President Peña Nieto announced the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research (FOBESII) with a view to expanding opportunities for educational exchanges, scientific research partnerships, and cross-border innovation.

In March 2011, Obama launched his “100,000 Strong in the Americas,” initiative, which aims to increase international study in Latin America and the Caribbean. He said the purpose of the initiative is to foster region-wide prosperity through greater international exchange of students, pointing out that they will be future leaders and innovators.

“The United States will work with partners in this region, including the private sector, to increase the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America to 100,000, and the number of Latin American students studying in the United States to 100,000,” Obama said. The goal is to achieve these numbers by 2020.

The 100,000 Strong in the Americas website says that expanding study abroad opportunities for students strengthens bi-national relations and better prepares young people for the 21st century global workforce. “In today’s interconnected, technology-driven world, quality education alone is not enough. We need to be more internationally-aware and cross-culturally adept. We need a generation of leaders who can reach across borders. For this, students need a broad base of skills and experiences, including exposure to other countries and cultures. That is the vision of 100,000 Strong in the Americas,” it states.

Asked why the Americas, the website states: “The future of the people and nations of the Americas is inextricably linked. As the Hispanic population in the United States surpasses 50 million, Americans increasingly recognize a shared connection and stake in this region. The Western Hemisphere represents a thriving market of nearly a billion people. Approximately 40 percent of U.S. exports go to our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors, and Latin American exports to the U.S. are even higher. The middle class in Latin America has grown by 50 million in the last decade alone. By 2060, the population in the Americas is projected to be greater than that of China, and more deeply linked to the U.S. by trade, culture, and family ties than any other region. Against this future landscape, 100,000 Strong will deepen relationships across the Hemisphere, enabling young people to understand and navigate the rich tapestry of shared values and culture and lead the process of greater commercial and social integration key to our region’s long term security and prosperity.”

The goal of 100,000 students moving between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean is ambitious. According to Open Doors, in 2013-14, there were 72,318 students from Latin American and the Caribbean studying in the United States.

Recently, UT-Austin and the government of Mexico renewed and expanded the Matías Romero Agreement, which deepens academic relations between the two. Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, signed the expanded agreement for his country.