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International Education Week Kicks Off

International Education Week - Karen Hughes

Karen Hughes
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Remarks at the Institute of International Education
Washington, DC
November 13, 2007

Thank you, Dr. Goodman, Peggy Blumenthal, and the entire team at the Institute of International Education-- you are a terrific partner on many of our most important exchange programs.

Today's news conference kicks off International Education Week, and its hundreds of programs around the world.

We're here today to announce good news–that the number of international students who came to America to study in academic year 2006-2007 has increased from last year and rebounded to record-setting pre-9/11 levels, and the number of American students travelling abroad to study is at an all-time high. This two-way exchange of talent, knowledge and good will is good for America and good for the world.

I believe that America's international education and exchange programs have proven to be our single most important public diplomacy tool of the last fifty years. The State Department sponsors a variety of academic programs ranging from our flagship Fulbright Program–which is at all-time record high number of scholarships to both international and American students, to our new English-teaching programs, which are reaching thousands of teens and pre-teens across the world.

I've talked to many of the participants in these programs and they all say the same thing: "It changed my life." They also have the potential to change the world because more than 130 world leaders have participated in America's international exchange programs, including the current president of France, the current prime minister of Great Britain and new president of Turkey. These programs build long term relationships with the future leaders of the world–they are tremendous intellectual capital for our country and we want to make sure they continue to grow.

We have implemented several major initiatives in the past year to attract more foreign students to the U.S. and encourage more Americans to study abroad. These include a new initiative to bring diverse and deserving foreign students to U.S. community colleges. We have created new "opportunity grants" to help outstanding international students of limited means with the up-front costs of applying for admission. And we have launched the National Security Language Initiative, to help young Americans study critical foreign languages including Arabic, Korean, Chinese and Persian. In addition, the first recipients of our new Fulbright Science and Technology Awards have begun their Ph.D. studies at leading U.S. research institutions this year, bringing some of the best and brightest science leaders of tomorrow, to our country.

These initiatives all grew out of the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education, which was co-hosted in January 2006 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings with the specific goal of expanding global education.

As a follow up, we organized a series of high-level delegations that traveled to key regions to market the U.S. as a higher education destination. I was honored to lead a delegation of American educators to India earlier this year. We found audiences overseas are impressed when university presidents make the effort to come say in person, "America's doors are open to your students." India remains our number one source of foreign students, and the number of Indian students coming to America increased another 10% this year.

We are taking other steps to increase the number of foreign students who come here. We've added more than 500 positions to our consular staff to speed up visa processing and we have stationed EducationUSA advisors in our posts to help American colleges and universities connect with international students–by hosting admissions staffers overseas, by arranging recruiting visits, by sharing information with foreign applicants. This kind of cooperation between government and higher education is absolutely essential to get the word out that we want foreign students to come study here.

International education is good for the American economy–international students contribute approximately $13.5 billion to the U.S. economy. And it is invaluable for public diplomacy –visiting students share knowledge of their country and culture with American students, and return home with lasting impressions of democracy and Americans.

As you know, after 9/11 the number of students visiting our country dropped for a number of reasons–increased security measures, misperceptions about whether students were welcome, cost factors. Today, I am pleased to report that the 2007 findings show that we have fully recovered from that drop and the number of international students coming to America is once again increasing.

Today's Open Doors 2007 report shows that 582,984 international students studied in the United States during the 2006/07 school year, roughly equal to our previous record. The new figures represent a 3.2% increase from the previous year. That's a good indication that our efforts are working to welcome more students to the United States.

It is particularly encouraging that the number of new international students–those enrolled for the first time–rose 10% last year. Preliminary data for this fall indicates further increases, so we are optimistic that foreign student numbers will continue to increase in the current academic year.

The new Open Doors report also shows a record number of Americans studying abroad. Nearly 224,000 American students during the 2005-06 school year, an 8.5% increase from the previous year.

The number of American students going to study in less traditional destinations continues to grow–study in Africa is up 19% and in the Middle East, study is up 31%. We are proud of our own contribution to this trend through increases in funding for all our government scholarship programs.

Our Gilman program for students with limited financial resources is opening doors to study abroad to a much broader, more diverse audience of young people. 2,682 students with high financial need have studied abroad through Gilman since it started 6 years ago. The percentage of Gilman recipients who are African American is four times the national participation rate of African Americans in traditional study abroad. For Latino students, it is double and for Asian-American Gilman recipients, it is triple the national rates.

Fatima, a Gilman student from Chicago, studied in India and told us, "For years I thought there was nothing past the gang boundaries in my neighborhood. From studying abroad I've become a better woman for others."

Brandon, a Philadelphia college student, traveled to Egypt. He said, "While I have learned a great deal from texts about the Middle East, there is some disconnect between what can be said in a few pages and what can be experienced from first-hand knowledge. Living in Cairo placed me in the heart of Egypt within an Arabic speaking community which aided my own understanding of the language because I by necessity had to interact with Arabic speakers. Something as simple as grocery shopping would turn into a learning experience."

Dayna, a community college student from Puget Sound, went to Costa Rica to study social sciences and reported back: "My classes in Costa Rica helped to bring me closer to fluency in Spanish as well as helping me to recognize and confront my own preconceptions and simplistic view of life outside of the U.S."

International study inspires personal growth, and creates stronger links between Americans and people of other countries and cultures. We are very pleased the Open Doors 2007 figures we are announcing today show that more students are venturing across the world to learn. But we cannot let up now. We want to continue sending the message: America welcomes international students, and we want American students to look over the horizon and seek a world of learning experiences.

This two-way exchange of talent and knowledge is good for individuals and for relations between countries. Today's interconnected world requires young people who are globally literate, and we are committed to continuing to expand international education.

Released on November 13, 2007


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