Burns: US-India Higher Education Summit- Transcript


By William J. Burns, US Deputy Secretary

Minister Sibal, Ambassador Rao, U.S.-India Business Council President Ron Somers, distinguished leaders from American and Indian higher education and private sector organizations.

I am delighted to be sharing the podium this evening with Minister Sibal, an accomplished lawyer and legislator who has been a champion for policy innovation at home and a strong advocate for closer U.S.-India relations.

Minister Sibal is a Harvard law graduate and his two sons studied in the U.S., so he knows well the value — and the cost — of an American education. I want to thank the Minister for his leadership — and especially for promoting ever-expanding collaboration between India and the United States.

When the President visited India last November, he told India’s parliament, “the United States not only supports India as a rising power; we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality.” He spoke of the “limitless potential to improve the lives of both Americans and Indians.” We are gathered for this conference to translate that potential into progress.

Diplomatic and security dialogues between our nations are vital and they continue to grow. But they are not enough. As Secretary Clinton has said, our greatest friendships have never existed merely in the halls of power. They live also in the hearts of our people, in the warmth of common experiences, in family ties and in the shared values we both cherish and champion.

One of those values — which I have seen Indians and Americans sacrifice so much to deliver — is a passionate concern about the education of our children, whether they are growing up in New York or New Delhi. So it’s fitting, then, that we have declared education to be one of the pillars of our strategic partnership.

As a lifelong diplomat, I know both the tribulations and the joys of grappling with new places and cultures. I know the satisfaction and perspective it can bring and the opportunities it can create. But student exchange and collaboration between our higher education institutions produces much more than knowledgeable graduates with a degree. It is a foundation for all that we, the U.S. and India, hope to accomplish together in business, government, science and technology, agriculture and the arts. It is a means for the best thinkers — entrepreneurs, scientists, professors, business leaders — to work together to help find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

People-to-people cooperation is also the bedrock of the global peace and prosperity that both our countries seek — which is why the U.S.-India Business Council was kind enough to host this event and why it is fitting that we are gathered at the beautiful new home of the United States Institute of Peace. Our governments continue to open doors to greater levels of engagement between our private sectors and civil societies, who, in turn, motivate and inspire our government to blaze new paths for cooperation.

We have high expectations for this relationship in the years ahead. I believe that India and America — two leaderships and two peoples with so many converging interests and common concerns — can help shape a more secure, stable, and just global system. I am confident that India can make a decisive contribution to building what Secretary Clinton has called “the global architecture of cooperation,” to solve problems that no one country can solve on its own.

In the last decade, America and India have grown closer than ever before — but building partnerships between two proud nations like ours doesn’t happen by accident or overnight. It takes time, it takes long-term effort, and it takes steady commitment.

Today’s students will become the leaders who make good on that promise in the years ahead. They will become tomorrow’s constituencies for a strong U.S.-India relationship — from Indian CEOs, like Ratan Tata, the Indian Chairman of the U.S.-India CEO Forum, educated at Harvard and Cornell, and whose companies are now creating jobs in the United States; to statesmen like India’s External Affairs Minister, SM Krishna, who studied at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, became a Fulbright Scholar at George Washington University, and now is a champion for strong U.S.-India ties.

That is not to say that our educational exchanges create alliances. But they create something more important: mutual understanding which reinforces the shared values between open societies and makes a global strategic partnership possible. As we prepare for tomorrow’s education summit, that is the promise unfolding before us.

And yet, for all the benefits — for our people, for our economies, for our diplomacy — it remains a long and sometimes arduous journey from India to study in America. Our education system is full of thousands of excellent schools. But it is also decentralized and not always easy to understand from the outside. At the same time, the number of American students studying in India is far too few, and the process for our schools to partner with Indian counterparts or to create new institutions of learning in India remains challenging. That is one of the reasons we organized tomorrow’s Summit. We want to do everything we can to lift the barriers to greater cooperation between our educational institutions and help these ties flourish.

And at a time when India’s goal is to modernize its economy and America is looking to grow our exports as a source of economic renewal, educational exchanges can help both of us move forward. In knowledge economies like ours, growth depends on innovation, moving new ideas from the laboratory, design floor and classroom into the marketplace. It depends on reaching new markets. I want to extend a special welcome to the many businesses here to attend tomorrow’s summit. I want to thank you for recognizing that you, too, have a stake in these partnerships — that today’s investments in education create tomorrow’s leaders. And as democracies, we have a special interest in equipping our youth with the knowledge to be good citizens.

We have seen the power of exchanges between our countries –we’ve seen it in agricultural exchanges that spread the innovations of the first Green Revolution. We have seen it in nearly 17,000 Fulbright Scholars acting as ambassadors on the ground. We have seen it in the Micro-Scholarships that send thousands of Indian teenagers to learn English after school, or our “Room to Read” programs that promote childhood literacy and a lifelong love of reading.

I challenge all of you during tomorrow’s Summit to seek out new avenues for cooperation we haven’t fully explored, including community college, distance learning, and new technologies in education, which are all part of a healthy and robust higher education mix. This will be good for our students, good for our societies, good for our economies, and good for the world.

The truth is that we have crossed a threshold in our relations where — for both of us, for the first time — our success at home and abroad depends on our cooperation. America’s vision of a secure, stable, prosperous twenty-first century world has at its heart a strong partnership with a rising India. The question is not whether we will have a strategic partnership, but whether we are doing as much as we possibly can to ensure that we realize its full promise. Few questions will matter more in the new century unfolding before us.

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