U.S.-India Higher Education Cooperation: Innovative Models of University-Industry Collaboration

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Hotel Willard Intercontinental
Washington, DC
October 14, 2011

As prepared

I am honored to be here today to speak to such an esteemed group of government, business, and education leaders.

I first would like to extend a warm welcome to the Indian officials who have traveled so far to devote themselves to a truly remarkable week in our bilateral relationship: Minister for Human Resource Development – and Co-Chair of the U.S.-India Higher Education Summit – Kapil Sibal and Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary for the Americas Jawed Ashraf.

I would also like to acknowledge Indian Ambassador to the United States Nirupama Rao, who has wasted no time in advancing the very issues that are most important to our two countries.

Finally I want to thank the Confederation of Indian Industry and the U.S.-India Business Council for their leadership in promoting greater US-Indian partnerships in education, which will prove so consequential in the months and years to come.

Investing in the education of our young people is not an option, but an imperative. It is the key to sustaining the competitiveness of our knowledge based economies; to ensuring that our youth can lead productive lives and seize the opportunities of the 21st century; to the proper functioning of our two great democracies; and it will help to sustain and grow the people-to-people bonds that are the real driver of U.S.-India relations.

This has been quite a week for U.S.-India education! In addition to yesterday’s extraordinary higher education summit, CII and USIBC have organized a stellar program this morning and USIBC’s kick-off event on Wednesday evening at the United States Institute of Peace was a resounding success.

From my perspective, yesterday’s summit was a wonderful combination of visionary ideas and very practical suggestions on the way forward. One of the most visionary presenters was Minister Sibal himself, so I will leave it to him to summarize his vision in a minute. The ever thoughtful and provocative Sam Pitroda also had terrific food for thought. He noted that for India’s 550 million youth, connectivity will be the key.

Sam described the efforts now underway to expand the fiber optic network and the National Knowledge Network to connect key universities and research and development labs. He also predicted the Internet’s impact would be more far reaching than we can imagine, even suggesting that one day teachers may no longer be needed as content deliverers, but more as mentors. Sam and others stressed that Indian higher education needs three things: 1) expansion of the educational system; 2) access for as many as possible; and 3) quality control.

Another theme that many speakers stressed was the need to get more young Americans to India. Former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Celeste noted that young people in America are different today. They want to start overseas opportunities sooner than in university and are eager for service opportunities. Fifty years ago, the Peace Corps was best vehicle for international public service. Today, a range of organizations, from church groups, to NGOs, businesses, and others offer expanded opportunities for service abroad. But challenges remain, including how to fund service learning programs and ensuring students are rewarded with academic credit for their hard work.

Jose Ferreira, the founder and CEO of Knewton, Inc., a technology and educational content company noted that 10 years from now, universities as we know them are likely to look quite different, with students enrolled at one university but taking online courses and getting credit from universities from another, including universities half a world away! He suggested those same students would only gather 10 percent of their information from books, while the rest would come to them online and through web-based platforms.

One thing was made clear at yesterday’s summit: there is already quite a lot of collaboration between U.S. and Indian higher learning institutions going on right now. In the course of yesterday’s discussions and breakouts sessions, three main ideas surfaced.

· First was the need to create new platforms for higher education cooperation. Minster Sibal noted that by partnering with Indian universities, U.S. universities could substantially reduce costs for their students. Others hailed the important niche U.S. community colleges fill by providing low cost, high quality education that is closely tied to the job needs of their local communities. Many conference attendees felt India could benefit from a similar educational platform.

· Second, Summit participants agreed on the need for more faculty training and exchanges. One speaker estimated that India will need one million new teachers to be trained.

· Finally, participants agreed on the need to maximize the use of technology. Several suggested launching a higher education portal to facilitate exchanges, training, and best practices, which the U.S. and Indian Governments will take for action. They also lauded the growing importance and value of online education. MIT offers more than 100 courses, while Stanford has 100,000 students taking an online course on artificial intelligence.

Ambassador Celeste touched on some of the challenges currently hampering wider collaboration. He noted, for example, the lack of symmetry between the U.S. and Indian education systems. For example, accreditation of universities is private in the United States, public in India. Similarly, funding for access and scholarships is a mix of public-private funding in the United States, while mostly public in India. In the United States, our universities are leaders in research, which is often government funded.

Nonetheless I think everyone agreed there are many opportunities to be seized and much to be done. Our role in government is to remove obstacles and use our convening power for events such as yesterday's summit.

In terms of next steps, Acting Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Ann Stock will travel to New Delhi this December to discuss an action plan and way forward in preparation for the Higher Education Dialogue chaired by Secretary Clinton and Minister Sibal in 2012. Each of these annual dialogues will be organized around a theme and include academic, private sector, foundation, and other relevant experts.

Let me conclude by thank USDIBC and CII for the chance to share some of the highlights from yesterday's event and outline our vision for the way forward. Working together, there is so much we can do to benefit the citizens of both of our countries.