Princeton president says visa policy will discourage foreign talent from US studies The president of one of the United States' top universities has warned that the re-election of George W. Bush could scupper efforts to attract more overseas students. Professor Shirley Tilghman, president of the Ivy League Princeton University, said the Bush administration's tight student visa policy as part of its war on terrorists had discouraged overseas applicants. 'If the US continues to discourage bright foreign students to come into the country, it will be America that hurts in the long run. 'I hope the administration will take very seriously the impact the extremely stringent visa policy has had on bringing talented students to the country,' she said during a visit to Hong Kong last week. One disincentive was the fact that foreign students currently studying in the US who wanted to return home briefly for personal or other reasons had to reapply for a visa to return, she said. The US needed a policy to keep out terrorists, but one that recognised the 'absolute essential role foreign students play in the vitality of the US,' she added. 'The question is how tightly we draw the string.' The rate of growth in foreign student enrolment at universities was less then 1 per cent - at 0.6 per cent last year - for the first time in 10 years, according to statistics from the New York-based Institute of International Education. The number of foreign graduate student applications to the US was also down on last year. On the domestic front, Professor Tilghman said she hoped the Bush administration would continue to provide financial support for low-income students so they could have access to higher education. But she added she had a cause for concern. 'Historically the Democrats have been more sympathetic to supporting low-income students. One of the difficulties for the Bush administration when it comes to continuing with student grants is that it has been lowering taxes,' she said. She revealed that Princeton University's plan was to increase its international student intake as part of its target to boost the size of its student body by 11 per cent in 2007. Before visiting Hong Kong, Professor Tilghman and her Princeton delegation toured a potential source of student recruits, an elite school attached to Renmin University in Beijing. She described the visit as 'fascinating'. 'The students spoke very good English, were highly knowledgeable, very ambitious and eager to learn,' she said. 'The facilities of the school were breathtaking, from the two dance studios, the beautiful rehearsal space for orchestra to the modern classroom full of computers. The athletic facilities rivalled everything I would see in the States,' said the professor of molecular biology. Her group also met with presidents of leading institutions, including Tsinghua and Beijing universities, and some Princeton alumni. With about 4,600 undergraduates, Princeton has not increased the size of its student body for 30 years, while its faculty has risen. The university had to turn away many good students because of its limited intake, said Professor Tilghman, who is among the rising number of female university presidents in the US. 'About 10 per cent of our graduate student body is Chinese. They are extremely good students, but only a handful are at undergraduate level. What we want the most is a talented pool from which we can draw. What foreign students bring to universities is different perspectives and ways of thinking about the world. It is a tremendous experience to live with someone from a different country, to understand how they think about the world. This is part and parcel of what it means to get a really good education.'