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Diplomacy in Action

The United States and India: A Partnership for the Next Generation

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Boston University's India Symposium
Boston, MA
May 10, 2013


Good morning. Thank you Dr. Sears, for that kind introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here today. And let me congratulate you on this first India symposium and on securing such a distinguished a speaker as Ambassador Rao! I’m delighted that Boston University is inaugurating this symposium and expanding its ties with India.

Since 2006, BU’s Center for Global Health and Development has engaged in innovative research and evaluation activities to improve public health in India, including maternal, neonatal, and pediatric healthcare. Your growing curriculum on South Asia and India prepares BU grads to seize the tremendous opportunities in this emerging economic powerhouse and partner of the United States. Today’s symposium adds a new public education dimension to make your education and research truly global.

President Obama has called our partnership with India a “defining partnership for the 21st century.” And as we go about the much-talked about “Asia rebalance,” there’s no more important partner for the United States in the region than India. The growing convergence of our interests and outlook has brought about unprecedented cooperation on regional and global security, economics and trade, education, science and technology, clean energy, health, and counterterrorism. Our governments have worked hard, especially in the last decade, to broaden and deepen this cooperation for the benefit of our citizens of our two great democracies.

In the Obama administration, that relationship has been expanded through the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue. We are in the full swing of preparations for the fourth round of the Strategic Dialogue, which will be held in New Delhi next month. Secretary Kerry will lead our delegation – his first such dialogue with a major partner. And higher education will be a major focus: we will hold our Higher Education Dialogue together with the Strategic Dialogue, a clear demonstration of the growing importance of education and people-to-people ties to our bilateral relationship.

Minister Pallam Raju, India’s Minister for Human Resources Development and co-chair of the Higher Education Dialogue, will visit Washington next week to lay the groundwork to further our cooperation on expanding educational exchanges and partnerships. We will work together to help India achieve its ambitious goal to establish 200 community colleges; build the next cadre of America’s India experts; and increase access to higher education through innovative use of technology.

The commitment by both governments to emphasize higher education collaboration underscores our shared belief that education is the lynchpin of the entrepreneurship and innovation that will drive our knowledge economies and growth and help us meet new challenges. That’s why increasing interactions and ties between our higher education communities, through academic and professional exchanges and a more visible and active role for the private sector, is a key part of catalyzing so many other aspects of our partnership with India.

To give you one example: over the past four years, the Fulbright-Nehru program (which India calls the Nehru-Fulbright program) has nearly tripled, with approximately 330 students and scholars from the United States and India participating annually. We now exchange more faculty under the Fulbright program with India than with any other country in the world. But our role as governments is to facilitate and to catalyze; ultimately it is the citizens of our nations who propel this relationship forward. Outside the halls of government, students and scholars, innovators and entrepreneurs, artists and athletes have been building the U.S.-India partnership for the next generation in tangible, innovative, and lasting ways.

As we recognize the need for more intensive collaboration to find common solutions to global challenges, more and more educational and research partnerships are being formed in science and technology. The Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative announced by President Obama and Prime Minster Singh in 2009 supports this critical collaboration through the pledge of $10 million to foster partnerships between U.S. and Indian higher education institutions, with equal contributions from both governments. The first awards connected eight institutions in each country in fields such as food security, climate change, sustainable energy, and public health. And we expect to announce the second round of Obama-Singh awards at the Higher Education Dialogue next month.

Of course, the United States has long been a favored destination for Indian students. We are pleased to note that every year, for several years now, over 100,000 new Indian students have been coming to the United States to study. In fact, India is the second largest country of origin of foreign students in the United States.

But when it comes to Americans studying in India, we need to do better. India ranks only eleventh among the destinations for American students studying abroad. While the number of American students in India has increased fourfold in the last ten years, the 4,300 or so who studied there in 2011-12 are less than a third of the number who studied in China in the same year. I want many more Americans to experience the richness of India’s culture, the vibrancy of its young people, and the dynamism of its economy, as I have had the privilege to do as a diplomat, because that’s the kind of understanding of a country that you can only gain by living there and interacting with its people every day.

We recognize that there are indeed challenges and hindrances which have prevented more American students from choosing India as a destination. We are working with the Indian government to streamline education visa processes, which have been repeatedly identified as a key reason why so few American students go to India. And through a grant from our Embassy in New Delhi, the U.S.-India Educational Foundation is working with Indian institutions of higher education to encourage more U.S. students to study there, including by developing better housing and support offices for foreign students.

Through initiatives like our “Passport to India,” we are also working with businesses and foundations to increase opportunities for more Americans to experience India during their college or university years through study abroad, internships, and service learning opportunities. This complements other State Department-sponsored programs for study abroad, including Fulbright, Gilman, and Critical Language Scholarships. Passport to India now has 10 partnerships with companies as diverse as Honeywell, United Airlines, Citigroup, which have created hundreds of new opportunities for American students in India. I hope many of you earlier today had a chance to talk with my Education Advisor, Dr. Molly Teas, about this terrific program and about internship opportunities in India. I also encourage you to check out the Passport to India page on Facebook, or the State Department’s Passport to India page on our website, at – slash – passport2india, that’s the number 2.

Let me conclude by saying that I’m very excited that discussions like ours are taking place at so many levels, because both our countries can contribute to one another, and frankly, can learn from each other. All of you here are part of that conversation today, about how those of us in positions of responsibility, whether in government, academia, or the private sector, can help equip our next generation with the global educations and experiences that will help our innovators and entrepreneurs remain at the forefront. So I urge you to throw your hats in the ring, to seize the opportunity to get in on the ground floor, making connections with the future policymakers, lawyers, scientists, and researchers of a dynamic and influential country whose impact on the world stage will only grow in the decades to come.

Again I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to bring us to this point and all of you at Boston University for hosting this important symposium and for recognizing the importance of building a partnership with India for the next generation. Thank you very much, and I would be happy to take a few questions.

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