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A new survey indicates that the number of foreign graduate students enrolling for the first time at American universities is down by 6 percent this year -- the third straight year of decline after a decade of growth. Educators worry that the trend is eroding America's position as the world's leader in higher education.

The fall was not as steep as feared, considering that applications last spring were down by 32 percent. But the results of the survey, of 122 member institutions by the Council of Graduate Schools, are still alarming to educators. American universities are highly dependent on foreign students for teaching and research help, particularly in the sciences and in engineering, a field in which foreigners make up 50 percent of graduate enrollment.

Experts think that a major factor is the difficulty -- or at least perceived difficulty -- of getting student visas under tightened U.S. immigration policies in the wake of 9/1 1.

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