Remarks To the American Council on Education Leadership Network

Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary of State, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
November 10, 2009

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to be here with you. 

When it comes to leadership in international education, one doesn’t find a more committed and dynamic group than this.  More importantly, one doesn’t find better partners.  We rely tremendously on your strategic vision and partnership as part of our active engagement in international higher education.  And I am delighted to be here today with you to share my thoughts on the importance of an “international agenda” in higher education.

Of course, the agenda has many parts. Today I would like to use this opportunity to discuss two specific aspects:

  • The continuing importance of educational exchanges,
  • And the need to work together to find solutions to global issues

There is no doubt that bringing foreign scholars, researchers, and students to the U.S. —

-- enriches the lives of the exchange participants,

-- adds to the educational experience of our students and faculty,

-- builds lasting ties among peoples and nations, and

-- expands our understanding of other countries and cultures.

Nor can there be any doubt that sending our own students and scholars abroad —

-- broadens the scope of their knowledge and academic collaboration;

-- energizes them to bring global perspectives into their classrooms and research, and

-- dispels myths and misconceptions that others may have about the U.S.

That is why President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made such early and emphatic commitments to people-to-people engagement and the importance of education.  From Cairo to Accra to the UN, President Obama has spoken about the value of education and international exchanges.  In Cairo, President Obama pledged, to quote, “expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities.”  Secretary Clinton, meanwhile, has likened study abroad programs to, as she said, “spring training for this century. It helps you develop the fundamentals, the teamwork, and the determination to succeed.”

Today, 45% of the world’s population is under the age of 25. That’s an astounding figure.  It means that we will need all hands on deck if we are to provide a significant portion of this generation with access to a quality education.

For our part, we will:

  • Broaden and deepen our exchange programs;
  • Strongly support increasing study abroad opportunities;
  • And continue to help make the U.S. the #1 choice for international students wanting to study outside their home countries.

A large part of the State Department’s public diplomacy mission focuses on exchanges, and I would like to touch on this for a moment.  The Department strongly supports study abroad for American students. The programs we sponsor, such as Fulbright, Gilman Scholarships and awards for language study overseas are expanding opportunities for Americans to build the skills they need to succeed in a global environment.  Our flagship program, the Fulbright, has now grown to more than 7,000 participants annually in 150 countries.  With the support of Congress, we are doubling the number of Gilman Scholarships to more than 1,700.

We are also supporting a pilot effort at more than 20 U.S. higher education institutions to expand study-abroad capacity, so that our students can experience a range of countries and cultures, from Jakarta to Jeddah to Johannesburg.  The State Department is also committed to helping make the United States remain a top destination for foreign students. Yet -- as you know -- we cannot take our strong position for granted.

At a time when more countries than even are competing in the international student market, we must make sure that foreign students know that the U.S. Government and U.S. institutions of higher learning welcome them.  Many institutions in the U.S. are seeking to expand the number of international students as an important part of their strategy to create knowledge and increase opportunities by opening the minds of students and faculty.  And we will support this initiative abroad by proposing to significantly increase English language training.

One component of this is to expand English Access MicroScholarhip classes for 14-18 year olds, in part to prepare the next generation for exchange programs or careers in English-speaking fields.  We are also looking to strengthen our educational advising services. Next week, during International Education Week, we will launch a new version of our EducationUSA website, to make it even easier for international students to learn about study in the U.S. It will be at

These programs reflect our priorities for reaching talented, diverse audiences abroad and building international capacity among Americans.  And we hope in doing this, we are acting as a valuable partner for all of you.

In my role as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have asked me to lead our efforts to expand and strengthen ties between the people of the United States and the people of the rest of the world.  But this is not a job for one person, nor is it something the government can achieve on its own. It requires the participation across the full spectrum of society: the business community, media, science and technology, and academia, among others.

In this effort, over the next several years, I will be aggressively seeking your partnership and expertise as we look to create multinational networks among academic institutions to help us find solutions to the challenges which confront us today.  There are local and regional issues, for example, such as Pakistan –- where we need to work on increasing educational opportunities, easing the energy crisis, and creating economic growth.  And there are global issues, such as climate change and food security, where partnerships between higher education and government could yield innovative breakthroughs and new solutions.

We need and want you to stand with us in addressing these issues. We need your expertise and your experience.  And we are convinced that the diversity of resources that we can bring to bear on these challenges —from government, from the U.S. academic community, and from our international partners -- can and will be transformative.

Looking forward, we have a lot to do, but with the leadership represented in this room today, I am very optimistic about what we can achieve working together.

I thank you very much for your invitation to be here today.

Thank you.