Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Beacon No. 17: What's Good for MTV Is Good for America?


TV-industry newsletter Cynthia Turner's Cynopsis says MTV will launch MTV World, a sub-network consisting of

Three new US customized MTV channels specifically designed to fulfill the programming needs of those people with an affiliation to a home country or culture that is not catered to by American mainstream media. These new channels will feature music and other programming from MTV's international channels and original programming, promos and packaging created in the US. Launching first will be MTV Desi, which will serve audiences with roots in the Indian sub-continent living in the US. MTV Desi will be followed by MTV China and MTV Korea in 2005, with additional channels to follow.

Why are there MTV-size numbers of well-off Chinese-, Indian- and Korean Americans? Standard INS-lottery immigration, to be sure; but U.S. pre-eminence in graduate-level education—particularly in technical fields like engineering, chemistry and physics—attracts overseas students like crazy. Seeing the benefits of living in the States, these huddled masses yearn to breathe degrees and stay on after graduation, enhancing U.S. competitiveness vs. their home countries.

So it seems like MTV is making a safe bet on rising numbers of well-educated, well-off Asian Americans. (Also in the works is American Desi, an MTV Desi competitor that will offer a slightly broader mix of news, entertainment and professional cricket.)

But along comes Tuesday's New York Times to spoil the fun in "U.S. Slips in Status as Hub of Higher Education":

Foreign students contribute $13 billion to the American economy annually. But this year brought clear signs that the United States' overwhelming dominance of international higher education may be ending. [There has been] a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half.

Foreign applications to American graduate schools declined 28 percent this year. Actual foreign graduate student enrollments dropped 6 percent. Enrollments of all foreign students, in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs, fell for the first time in three decades in an annual census released this fall. Meanwhile, university enrollments have been surging in England, Germany and other countries.

Culprits? Onerous visa requirements and Iraq-driven unpopularity, plus aggressive efforts by other English-speaking countries to ramp up their degree programs and attract other countries' bright young things. And China, finally tiring of watching some of its best talent head West, has reportedly made it a national priority to transform 100 of its universities into world-class research institutions.

Regular readers of Beacon know will see where I'm going: The numbers of overseas students taking the GRE is a leading indicator of where U.S. competitiveness and to some extent soft power will be 10-20 years from now, when today's undergrads are in the most productive phase of their professional lives. The U.S. should make it a national priority to get the number of GRE-takers up and help overseas students get here and stay here, now.

I'd expect to see MTV, whose revenues now rely on a steady supply of newly minted Americans, to help out. Although I hate to say it, what's good for MTV World is good for America.

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