Remarks at the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
George C. Marshall Center
Washington, DC
June 12, 2012

Oh, that was such a nice introduction. It’s all downhill from here. (Laughter.)

It’s really a pleasure to be with all of you for what I think of as one of the most important partnerships, not only and obviously between the United States and India, but in particular, the U.S.-India dialogue on higher education. This is a commitment by both our governments, but more importantly, our societies, our people, to helping make the most of all of our young people’s talents. And as Minister Sibal said, we’re living in a fast-changing world, a tumultuous time. And those of us in positions of responsibility, whether it be in government or in academia or in the private sector, we have an obligation to do more to try to assist those young people achieve their aspirations.

I want to thank Sam Pitroda for his continuing support and commitment to this. Secretary Thakur, thank you very much. It’s wonderful to have our two ambassadors, both of whom are really exemplars of the very best our countries have to offer. I also want to thank Assistant Secretary Bob Blake, who has really nurtured this relationship and has been a great leader and voice about its importance. I want to thank Tara Sonenshine, who has brought to the position of Under Secretary a great deal of experience and expertise in how to create partnerships and then how to tell the story that they represent. And to all of the representatives and leaders from other agencies, higher education, and the private sectors in both countries, thank you all for being here.

As you can see from this week’s Strategic Dialogue meetings, our ties have never been stronger. And it’s not just that we are the oldest and the largest democracies. It’s that the strategic fundamentals of our relationship – our shared values, our economic systems, our diplomatic imperatives – are drawing our interests into closer convergence in the 21st century. And that means we are working together like never before to build an open, free, transparent, and fair global economic system, to promote peace and prosperity in South Asia and the Asia Pacific, to coordinate international responses to violent extremism, and so much else.

And that is the context for today’s discussion and tomorrow’s Strategic Dialogue and for the work that we are doing every day. Because at the root of it, we believe – both the United States and India – that extending the benefits of higher education to as many people as possible is not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing as well, to help better equip our people to compete in today’s global economy.

At last year’s Higher Education Summit, we demonstrated our commitment to this mission. And I think, as Minister Sibal said, we have already made a great deal of progress. But we’re not satisfied, which is why we are here today for this dialogue to continue the exchange of views and the planning and processes necessary to take us even further.

Today, we are announcing the first round of eight awardees from the Obama-Singh, Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative. I’m very excited about the four American-led projects. One, directed by Cornell University, will create a public-private partnership to improve agricultural education in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Another, with the University of Michigan at the helm, will raise the quality of training for healthcare professionals throughout India. Rutgers University will run a project to build the capacity of India’s institutions of higher learning. And the University of Montana and its partners will examine climate change and its effect on agriculture in India. I congratulate all the awardees and encourage more partners to apply when the next round opens in July.

We’ve also taken steps forward with the U.S. Passport to India program, an effort to enlist the private sector and nonprofit groups in creating more options for American students who want to learn in India. And I’m pleased to announce today that seven companies have agreed to support internships or service-learning projects for 225 American students over the next three years. American students will soon be doing cutting-edge research with Microsoft in Bangalore, developing new energy solutions at Honeywell UOP, and working on service projects with local NGOs.

I also want to applaud the Government of India for your commitment to send junior faculty to the United States for post-doctorial research, as well as for the higher education web portal you are launching to foster collaboration and exchanges.

Everyone here has a chance to build on the progress during your meetings and conversations today. I want to emphasize three areas that I think deserve particular attention.

The first is workforce development. I think this is a challenge, albeit in different ways, for both of our countries. India’s economy is growing fast, its middle class flourishing. But, as the minister has said, India is struggling to train enough workers to keep the economic engine going. In the coming years, India will need to send tens of millions more students to colleges and universities, while improving the quality of education and keeping the cost affordable.

This is a challenge we face here in the United States as well. President Obama has made it clear that we need to help more of our young people pursue a degree after high school. And we look to our community colleges to help, and I very much applaud India’s examination of this model. I’m a great proponent of and fan for community colleges. I have worked with them on the state level when my husband was governor of Arkansas. I’ve worked with them on the national level, both as a first lady, as a senator. And I believe community colleges are one of the reasons, often unheralded, that the United States has been so successful. Yes, we have great, wonderful, world-class higher education institutions; I went to two of them. I’m very grateful for that, but we have so many jobs that go unfilled because of the lack of linkage between the skills needed in the jobs and the training and education of the workforce.

You can go to any place in America today, even where our unemployment rate is higher than the national average; you can look in the newspaper or log on to the computer and you will see jobs begging to be filled. And what will employers tell you? We don’t have the right mix of skills. And very honestly, degrees from Wellesley and Yale are not what they’re looking for. They’re looking for people who know how to do the work that builds and maintains a modern economy. And our answer to that has been community colleges.

Across the country, community colleges work with local businesses to prepare millions of students to compete and innovate. In fact, our businesses go to our community colleges and our community colleges go to our businesses and say let’s design a program so that we prepare workers for the jobs you want to bring and keep in this community. So it’s a synergy of the most economic importance. And we were very happy to welcome the Indian delegation that came to the United States earlier this year to learn more about our model. And today, we have a number of leaders from around our country who will share insights as India considers the best way forward.

Now I have to tell you, I have made this pitch for about 20 years in different places, in different audiences. And I think all too frequently there is a picture of higher education in people’s heads, here in my country and around the world, that our four-year, degree-granting institutions, often research institutions that are really dominant in imagining what higher education can and should look like. There is a critically important role for such institutions.

But then there is all the rest. And there is a huge vacuum that exists in too many places around the world that community colleges, comparable models, can help fill.

This brings me to the second area that I hope you will focus on today. If our students are going to solve global challenges, they need to understand those global challenges. Now, U.S. institutions in particular are seeking to broaden their curricula and provide more opportunities for their students and scholars to gain international experience. And thanks to support from both governments, we’re exchanging more students and scholars through the Fulbright-Nehru program than ever before. Today, I hope you’ll explore ways to increase partnerships in fields like food and water security, climate change, sustainable energy, and public health. These are areas that are ripe for new ideas.

Finally, I hope you’ll discuss ways to make the world’s best teaching materials available to everyone, no matter where they live or how much money they have. Minister Sibal talked about cloud computing and the need to use modern technology in order to bring to the doorstep or to the screen of students who would otherwise not have the opportunity. All that is available today.

And this new technology makes it possible to revolutionize higher education, even in some of the world’s poorest places. The United States is investing nearly $2 billion in the creation of open educational resources, and India has also made impressive progress on its own.

I think we have to be very thoughtful about how to make the most of these efforts, because, to be very frank, some of what passes for distance learning and computerized instructions is really bogus. It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make a difference. Some of it is brilliant and effective. How do we begin separating the wheat from the chaff? How do we have standards that move us in the right direction and don’t leave open a broad field for the exploitation of students because we don’t have the right standards and expectations in place?

Now these conversations and connections are going on in each of our countries as we both search for the best ways to improve education to meet the needs of today’s students. But what I really am excited about is that these are also now going on between us, because I think we both can contribute to the other, and frankly, learn from each other. And I think if we are determined to make these conversations and connections more purposeful and more focused, then we will each benefit from what is a very important strategic part of our partnership.

So I thank everyone who has worked so hard to bring us to this point. I welcome all of our participants from India. I thank the minister, who has been my partner and colleague as we have tried to forge this way forward, and I look forward to learning of the results of the work that you all will do today and into the future. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2012/944