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Remarks by Ambassador Nirupama Rao at the Luncheon Session at the India-US Higher Education Summit

Washington, DC

John DeGioia, President of the Georgetown University,
Ambassador Richard Celeste,
Ladies and Gentleman,

Thank you, Bob* (*Assistant Secretary Robert Blake) for your warm words of introduction. I am happy to be back at Georgetown this afternoon. Its indeed a unique day for India-US relations and for our cooperation in education; this is the first time that we have had such a large gathering of government officials, academics and representatives of business and industry from both countries who have come together to brainstorm in this extraordinary confluence of minds to define a strategic vision for the future of the US-India higher education partnership. It is, therefore, my great honor to have this opportunity to address this gathering of distinguished participants from both our countries.

Speaking at Georgetown a few days before- I thank President DeGioia once again for that opportunity- I had mentioned that the spirit of inquiry, creativity and the tradition of imparting of the knowledge were the hallmarks of our two societies. As both our countries work towards becoming truly knowledge economies, I believe there are immense opportunities for forging new links in the areas of education, research and innovation as also technology and skill development.  

 You heard so much in terms of new ideas during the panel discussions that were held this morning. This morning you also had an opportunity to hear from our Minister of Human Resource Development about the initiatives India is taking to significantly expand its education infrastructure and the opportunities that are thus provided for fruitful collaboration between Indian and US institutions.  In my remarks,  I would like to provide a brief overview of what we are already doing in terms of building such linkages and what we would like to achieve. 

 One of the key features of our bilateral relationship is that it is people centric. People-to-people connections have been at the heart of this relationship. Links between our scientists, researchers and academics have always been an important component of such people to people ties ,and interactions in the higher education field between the institutions of India and the US are a very important dimension of the overall India-US partnership.

You are all  well aware of the fact that US universities  helped  set up our IIT Kanpur and IIM Ahmedabad, institutions which are global brand names now. Some of our leading agricultural universities, that played a key role in our first Green Revolution, such as Pantnagar and the Agricultural University at Ludhiana, were established with assistance of some of the leading land-grant universities of the US. Such exchanges laid a very broad foundation of collaboration in research and teaching to meet the needs of the people. 
The Fulbright programme, established in 1950, has provided opportunities for more than 16,000 scholars both from India and the US to visit each other’s countries and has enriched their lives. We heard how the number of scholars under the Fulbright-Nehru Programme has tripled in the last three years . This programme was renewed in 2008, and reflecting India’s increasing capabilities, was turned into a partnership with both India and the US becoming equal partners and contributing to the programme. During the visit to the US of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in November 2009 both sides agreed to substantially expand the program to provide more student and scholar exchange grants in priority fields such as science, technology and agriculture. 

 It is not out of place to mention the US Peace Corps which sent its volunteers to India till 1976 and helped promote people to people linkages, More than 4,000 American volunteers spent time in India working mostly in rural communities. Ambassador Richard Celeste was one such volunteer. A few weeks back, the Embassy had partnered with such volunteers to celebrate their 50th reunion. The over-whelming sentiment of the volunteers was how their stay in India had changed their lives and created long lasting bonds of friendship with ordinary Indians, bonds which have lasted over generations and are still thriving.

Over the last few decades, graduates of Indian universities, especially the IITs and other engineering schools, have been a major source of student talent for US graduate schools and have played a significant role in innovation and business. Nearly 100,000 students from India,  who are enrolled in US universities, are benefitting from the higher education system of the US. In fact, the US remains a preferred destination for our students with over 60% of all Indian international students coming here to pursue their advanced degrees.

One of the members of the audience at the panel discussion that just concluded spoke about, what he termed, as an imbalance in the numbers between Indian students studying here and American students going to India. As one of the panelists pointed out, you don’t look at it as an imbalance, you look at this as a need, as a gap that needs to be addressed. It points to a certain information gap that exists between the two countries. It also points to the absence, if you look at the spectrum of what US universities do, of a serious engagement with India. I think India has to be approached as a discipline, as a science - as Ralph Emerson once said - and I think you have to be able attract the best minds here in America and the best young minds to study in India. And I believe that imbalance, that gap will be addressed as our partnership grows in strength and substance, as the economic engagement between India and United States is further fostered and grows in all its dimensions. I think that’s an inevitable outcome of a closer engagement between India and the United States. And the role that the Indian-American Diaspora will play also cannot be discounted, it’s extremely important. I think this is also the time that we need to look at these questions and to address these issues in a very serious and in a very concerted manner. I believe this sort of engagement in the field of education between India and the United States can do just that because you’re bringing the best minds from both countries to focus on these very real issues concerning our future. I mean this is not just about academics and not just about intellectual debate, which is very good and essential between two democracies, but it’s also about our future, our place in the world…about development, and innovation as many of our speakers pointed out today. This has not just  about a one way flow. Today a number of Indian Americans, who came as students from India a number of years back, occupy key positions in various US Universities, companies and R&D Laboratories. They can play a great role in this intellectual ferment that we need to create. The Vice Chancellor of Delhi University spoke about the need for that ferment. I definitely subscribe to that view. We need that ferment, we need that questioning, that constant questioning and you have to find the right answers. They have created jobs and prosperity in this country and participated in the development of cutting edge and frontier technologies that have helped improve the lives of people. A few weeks back, President Obama named twelve eminent researchers and innovators as recipients of the National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation - the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors. And I’m proud that  three of them were of Indian origin. 

 Indeed we seem to be turning a full circle.  Major US universities have established collaborative ventures with Indian institutions and launched India initiatives. There are Indian study centres/initiatives at University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Yale, University of Michigan and Duke University. A number of individual universities and technical institutions of India and the US have collaboration for teacher-student exchange programme, curriculum design, etc. Dr. Narendra Jadhav spoke about how our collaboration could create a democratic dividend, we speak of the demographic dividend, but I think this is a very interesting concept-the democratic dividend, and how we can strengthen it and how we can provide further ballast and add traction to it. Georgetown itself has undertaken a number of programmes to strengthen its linkages with India. This is taking place even as India is reforming and expanding its educational systems and Indian educational institutions are becoming increasingly global in their perspectives and developing greater linkages with international counterparts.   

This just reminds me: I graduated from Mount Carmel College in Bangalore, and my father who  was in the Army was posted to Aurangabad in Maharashtra, which was just a small town (not any more) at that moment and it had one university, the Marathwada University and most of my fellow students were basically Marathi speaking. And this university had  an English Literature department  which offered a course in American literature and this was my introduction to America. We had a professor who had a done a year’s Fulbright at Indiana University and he opened a whole new universe to me when he spoke of Arthur Miller and Herman Melville and Tennessee Williams and I learned of America like that. And that speaks of the ferment you can create in a young person’s mind just by the presence of somebody like that. An Indian who had spent a year here brought back all these stories and these wonderful new ideas, which I had not been exposed to before.  

Our bilateral cooperation in Science and Technology has deepened through the Joint S&T Sub-Commission and Science & Technology Initiative. With the setting up of the bilateral Science and Technology Endowment Fund of US $ 30 million, we are capitalizing on our respective scientific and technological strengths to encourage promising and innovative ideas and joint R&D, that could produce material benefits for both countries and support the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit of both our peoples.  This scientific cooperation has taken a new dimension to advance common goals in science and engineering research and education, support partnerships between public and private research institutions and industry to meet  pressing global problems such as environmental and biodiversity protection, safe drinking water, clean energy, climate change, finding cures for HIV/AIDS and other infectious and chronic diseases.  

 A number of US firms are capitalizing on the large pool of skilled engineers, scientists and researchers of India. A number of big US companies have research centers in cities like Bangalore. The GE research centre in Bangalore is I understand the largest such centre that GE has outside of the US. Together they are producing innovative and affordable solutions for diverse fields such as health care and energy. Indian firms too are expanding their global horizons and increasingly establishing a very visible presence in the US, across the length and breadth of this country. I believe they are already in 43 states. 

In the last two years, we have taken several additional steps to expand the links between faculties and institutions of the two countries. The Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative announced in 2009 would help strengthen teaching and research in both US and Indian institutions through university linkages and junior faculty development including greater emphasis on community colleges. Both sides have announced a matching contribution of USD 5 million to the initiative for five years. As mentioned just this morning the first set of proposals under this imitative will be ready for presentation by November 1st.

Let me just dwell on collaborative research projects on energy because this is really the frontier we have to reach: Second Generation Biofuels; and Energy Efficiency of Buildings, our business and industries are talking about it and our scientists and innovators are working on solutions. 

And distance education - I think we all recall the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) between NASA and ISRO that helped  launch distance education in India in the 1970s. Our scientists are now collaborating to enhance our ability to forecast the monsoon through the establishment of a ‘Monsoon Desk’ in NOAA which will ultimately help  millions of farmers across India to improve their productivity and incomes.

It is against this rich backdrop that our two governments have accorded high priority to deepening of our cooperation in the field of education as we chart the course ahead for this defining strategic partnership.   And education, the greatest wealth of all as the old Sanskrit saying says and the access to and development of technology hold the key to the advancement of our societies, to meet the challenges that our two countries face and for a more prosperous and stable world. Such linkages build friendship between people, help foster better mutual understanding and provide resilience and vibrancy to our overall partnership.

This Summit therefore, provides a valuable opportunity- it advances our partnership and takes advantage of the unique education experience each of our country has. And I’d like to see more and more American students coming to India in the future to study India like a science.   The newly launched ‘Passport to India’ initiative by the US is an laudable initiative, and I am hopeful that the summit would also come up with more ideas to help increase the number of American students studying in India. 

I am not an education expert and therefore would not attempt to list out the possible ways and means of achieving these objectives. There are far more eminent experts here who can do a much better job. I see from the agenda that your discussions this afternoon are going to be very rich and very textured and would touch upon various aspects and will definitely create a sustainable and as Sam (Pitroda) was saying, a very scalable partnership in education. And most of all, I think it has to focus on the issues and challenges that face our two countries, whether it’s economic development, whether it is the removal of poverty or whether it’s just to think outside the box to revolutionize cooperation as it were.  I wish you all the very best for your deliberations and look forward to studying the outcomes of your discussions once the summit is over.

Thank you.