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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S.-India Higher Education Roundtable

Tara Sonenshine
   Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
   Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Institute of International Education
Washington, DC
May 14, 2013


Under Secretary Sonenshine: Thank you Gary and my personal welcome to Minister Raju and Ambassador Rao and Assistant Secretary Blake, and really to the members of the academic community and the private sector. Your presence here is a very encouraging signal about the commitment that is beyond just government, but a whole of community commitment to the higher education ties between our countries. And particularly thank you to the area of community colleges helping to equip young people with the skills they need to prevail in this increasingly globalized and knowledge-based economies.

I think we all have heard and underscored the stakes that are involved here. When we prepare more young people for success, we are opening doors to everyone’s futures and contributing to the economic growth of India and the United States.

Let me quickly review the progress to date so we know where we are.

In 2010 a model for a cooperative future was established with a promising exchange program between Montgomery College and several Indian institutions. Since then I would say we have moved from strength to strength.

In 2011 the U.S.-India Higher Education Summit brought together over 300 leaders in higher education, government, the private sector, from both countries and expanded cooperation. Then the 2012 Higher Education Dialogue where we talked about this initiative to create 200 community colleges in the coming years. I was proud to lead the delegation of American higher education representatives to the conference in February in Delhi.

The word that Minister Raju and Ambassador Rao both used is momentum. We now have to keep up the momentum. We have to expand the opportunities and leave no stone unturned as we find ways for educators and institutions to deliver high quality, cost-effective instruction so that students can access knowledge.

I’m hoping that today’s discussion will touch upon not only the community college model but the concept of open educational resources, the MOOCs - massive on-line open courses. This morning I met with one of those providers at Edx and I know the Minister will also be seeing some of the providers of on-line long distance learning courses.

So the potential topics I hope for the upcoming meeting will be the higher education topics that we’re talking about today. I know that Secretary Kerry and I look forward to continuing this conversation at the summit. The Fulbright Nehru program is a cornerstone of cooperation and we are going to nurture it as we would nurture any plant that is important to both of us.

More and more Indians are getting accurate comprehensive information about the 4,500 accredited colleges and universities in the United States. So we appreciate this partnership. We’re supporting, as has been said, more Americans to go and study in India. That can happen through the Gillman Program, the Critical Language Scholarships, Connect to India, Passport to India. There is capacity and energy to put towards this. Fewer than 4,000 American students, that is still far from our goal of 15,000 in five years.

So we have to look at what are the obstacles to getting American students to go so that we can boost interest and participation. I’m delighted that Molly Teas is here for Passport to India, so that we can work with the private sector to sponsor these American students and interns in Indian-based facilities.

During the dialogue I hope we will see the announcement, as has been mentioned, of the next round of awardees under the Obama-Singh Initiative so that we can solidify these partnerships between institutions.

I would just close by saying what is wonderful about these discussions is they are always a dialogue, never a monologue. We work in both directions. We are trying to learn from one another, to share experiences and best practices.

I’m glad Minister Raju that you will get to see as early as today I believe these community colleges and our higher education community so that we can work with you on vocational skills and practical training.

I look forward to a productive discussion and candid advice as to the opportunities and challenges we face together, as well as what new areas we should focus on in the future and what advice you have for all of us as we plan the agenda coming up. 

Thank you so much.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you, Gary. Thank you and IIE for organizing this today. And of course a very warm welcome to the Minister and his delegation.

Ambassador Rao and I often joke that when we give speeches together we can often exchange our speeches because of the convergence of our views. So since I’m the last speaker in fact everything has already been said that I was going to say, so I’m just going to make couple of quick points.

I’d like to first of all build on a comment the Minister made in his remarks, which is we need to allow learning across our two cultures. I think that’s really really important. That’s why we’re all here today. Why is that?

First of all, we need to allow it because we have this growing partnership between the United States and India. Our President has called it the defining partnership of the 21st Century. And as many of you know, there’s really no area of human endeavor anymore in which Indians and Americans are not cooperating somewhat.

Secondly, I think we have a growing number of joint programs, particularly in the field of new technologies. How do we leverage our two knowledge-based economies to create new technologies for the benefit of mankind? So you see that in our energy dialogue with some of the clean technology that we’re developing now. You see that in the Millennium Alliance that has been created between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the government of India and FICCI, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, to develop the next generation of low cost development solutions to the greatest development needs of the world. Not only in India, but around the world. You see that in our science and technology partnership where there’s tremendous ongoing and very creative research. So these are all really exciting things.

Again, I think there’s no more important task for us right now in both of our countries than to create jobs. We have two knowledge-based economies, and the synergy of putting those together and creating new technology and new opportunities for our citizens is tremendous and enormous. I think that drives a lot of what we’re trying to do today.

So we really have a profound interest in not only providing greater educational opportunities for all of our young people in both of our countries so that they gain the training that they need to do the things that I just talked about, but we also need to have our young people learn about each of our countries and have opportunities so that they can get excited about those opportunities.

I joined the Foreign Service many years ago because of the time I spent overseas and I want to have young Americans get exactly that same kind of excitement and experience by going to India and developing the same affection for India that I have had in ten years of working there. That way we will have the next generation of business people, scientists, employers, diplomats and others who have experience working across both borders and can really, again, lead this synergy that we need to see.

So let me just conclude by saying what we really need to do is hear from all of you today. First of all, what are ideas, how can we leverage technology to improve these educational opportunities? What can we as governments do better to make things easier for all of you to do more? And how can we do better? Maybe there are things on the regulatory side or any other suggestions you have. We really welcome that. That’s what we see as our role in government is to open the opportunities for all people. Thank you.

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