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Remarks at the Higher Education Dialogue 2013 Kick-Off

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Location: New Delhi, India

SECRETARY THAKUR: Secretary Kerry, Minister Raju, all the distinguished participants here today, I welcome all of you to the Higher Education Dialogue 2013, especially Secretary Kerry, as he has been taking a lot of interest in what we are doing. And yesterday, when we had the meeting, he had a special word to say about the progress that we have made in higher education.

In terms of enrollment, India is doing very well I would say. We have crossed the 20 million mark, and thereby becoming the second largest higher education system in the world. But we have concerns in quality, concerns in skill development. So therefore, in these two areas, we seek the cooperation of USA and all your universities and community colleges.

Since the last meeting, we have made considerable progress, the last meeting which we had in June last year in Washington. Firstly, we will be releasing the second round of names for Singh-Obama Initiative. This is basically institution-to-institution tie-up, some of our institutions tying up with some of the best universities in USA. Eight of them we have released already last year. This year we'll be announcing eight more names.

Similarly on the faculty development, which is, again, very, very important for promoting quality, under the Raman Fellowship schemes, 126 names will be released today. This will also go a long way in promoting equality in the institutions of higher learning in the country.

We also, on the skill development side -- as I said, India is a very young country in which half the population is considered young, with a median age of just 28. So therefore, skills become a very, very important issue for us. And in this -- so I'm very pleased to inform you that our interaction with the community colleges in the USA is very alive and very robust. We just signed an MOU before you came here, and we have -- as we have decided to start 200 community colleges this year, many of these community colleges will be having institution-to-institution tie-up with the U.S. community colleges.

MOOCs is another new animal which has appeared on the horizon of higher education, and we are all trying to figure it out. The exploration work has been initiated today, sir, with the signing of the MOU between IIT Bombay and EDEX, and we hope that we will make considerable progress. Basically to begin with, the programs which the IITs have been offering on the ICT platform for several years, which is called the NPTEL. NPTEL would now be offered on MOOCs platform.

Connect India program is another very important program which we will be releasing today, basically familiarizing the students and the youth of America and USA to know about India. You also have a program called the Passport to India, which is also very active. And keeping both these programs in view, I'm sure that there will be a lot -- many American students coming to India.

Lastly, sir, the foreign -- unfortunately, the foreign education providers bill is still with the parliament which is refusing to oblige us, but we have been working outside it thinking laterally and we had come out last year with a twinning arrangement. There were some glitches about that. We have now removed the restriction of limiting it only to 500 institutions. We have, in fact, made it more open. But what is required is to have more awareness on it, and we need to have workshops, both probably in India as well as the U.S., in making this framework known to others so that this tie-up could be more -- made effective.

With this, sir, I welcome all of you once again, and would now invite Minister Raju for his opening remarks. (Applause.)

MINISTER RAJU: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Excellency John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State; Under Secretary Ms. Tara Sonenshine and Ms. Martha Kanter; Ms. Nirupama Rao, India's Ambassador to the United States; Ms. Nancy Powell, U.S. Ambassador to India; Mr. Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information, Infrastructure, and Innovations; Mr. Ashok Thakur, Secretary Higher Education; distinguished guests and participants; our friends from the press and media, I am pleased to welcome you and to thank you all for being here today for the third consecutive education dialogue between India and the United States of America.

Earlier today, I had a brief but a very fruitful interaction with Secretary Kerry, and I'm happy to say that not only do we share our thoughts and cooperation in higher education and skill building, but also share a common association with Boston, Massachusetts, where I had worked as a young graduate. Like most of the distinguished academics present here, I too have had the opportunity to study and work in the United States, and I do believe that between the combination of the defining work ethic of America and the Indian concept of dharma, which signifies being true to one's responsibilities, there is immense scope for a meaningful collaboration between our two nations to realize our true potential for knowledge, creation, and innovation. I would like to recite the words of the great statesman Benjamin Franklin who said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

President Obama and our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, have rightly described the relationship between India and the United States as the defining partnership of the 21st century. Education and knowledge is a pillar -- is a key pillar of the India-U.S. strategic partnership. The partnership offers a huge opportunity to use and share the experience and best practices in the development of institutions of higher learning and research as also building the capacity of global skill sets to our mutual advantage.

Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated in India this year, had participated in the Parliament of World Religions organized at Chicago way back in 1893, had given the world his message of tolerance and universal acceptance. The message is even more relevant to us in these turbulent times and a fast-changing world. Our two democracies, the oldest democracy and the largest democracy, with our inherent value systems, can certainly play a stabilizing role for a better world.

Post-independence, our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, realized that in order to keep pace with the ever changing world of science and technology it was necessary to collaborate closely with the outside world. The Kanpur Indo-American Program between 1962 to 1972 at IIT Kanpur was a stride in this direction. Today, the IIT Kanpur stands as a landmark institution representing the collaboration between the United States and India. In fact, Indian Americans who are products of our different institutions have immensely contributed to the national development of both our countries and have provided a strong culture of innovation.

In recent years, both our countries have built up a considerable portfolio of collaborative endeavors in diverse areas such as research and development, exchange of students and faculty, institutional linkages, and skill development. The pace of cooperation has significantly accelerated after the Indo-U.S. Higher Education Summit and the Higher Education Dialogue held in October 2011 and June 2012 respectively in Washington, D.C. The synergy that we are working towards is best reflected in Secretary Kerry's words from the other day when he had said, "Ek aur ek gyarah hote hain." (Laughter.)

Allow me to share with you our vision to transform our educational institutions into hubs of knowledge, creation, and promoters of innovation as to also be able to provide opportunities to our youth for their skill development and employment. During the 12th Five Year Plan, which is between 2012 and 2017, we intend to achieve an additional enrollment capacity of 10 million students in higher education, including one million in open and distance learning so as to raise the country's gross enrollment ratio in higher education from the present 18 percent to 25.2 percent in 2017 and to reach the target of 30 percent by 2020. The skill development and vocational education should be, in my view, an integral part of our educational system and the inclusive role of business and industry in this effort would be of great development.

Our late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi envisioned leading India into the 21st century, and he believed in leveraging on the transformational power of technology. Given our demographic makeup and the large population, technology-enabled education, including emerging technology like MOOCs, offer us a great opportunity to reach out to and empower large numbers.

To give you a glimpse of the challenges before us, which we had just discussed, we have more than 230 million in our 1.14 million schools. And every year, we have almost 17 million students transiting from grade 8 to grade 9, who must be provided adequate opportunities of a productive secondary school education and skills in order to realize India's true demographic dividend.

Our Prime Minister has set a target of skilling 500 million youth by the year 2022. In all these endeavors, technology can play a very enabling role. We have made a beginning with our National Knowledge Network and the National Mission on Education through ICT, which is a $1 billion project. More than 400 of our universities and 18,000 of our colleges are now connected. There is an imminent need to further leverage on ICT for more effective dissemination of knowledge and learning. It is in this context of knowledge creation, student development, and the use of technology that the India-U.S. cooperation in higher education signals a win-win opportunity for both sides by matching mutual strengths and concerns and creating avenues for progress.

I would like to flag some of the issues that I would like to be taken up for widening our cooperation for an outcome-based approach. A roadmap for collaboration covering specific areas that is promoting institution-to-institution linkages, deepening cooperation in research and development, encouraging faculty exchanges and development of junior faculty and teachers, promoting a two-way student exchange, and leveraging the U.S. experience and resources for skill creation and elaboration in India and collaborating in open online education, such as MOOCS. Our strategy for greater collaboration for research in grand challenge areas to tackle developmental challenges so as to find practical and cost-effective solutions for various problems facing not only by our two countries but also by other parts of the globe to help transform our education institutions into engines of economic growth through strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship.

As you are aware, our government has declared this decade to be a decade of innovation and I'm glad that Mr. Sam Pitroda, who is the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Innovation, he's here, whom I would like to carry this forward during the working sessions.

As I had said earlier, I visualize skill development to be an integral part of our education system. Based on the U.S. experience of community colleges, we have embarked to develop community colleges across the length and breadth of the country. I appreciate the enthusiastic participation of our very strong U.S. term lead by Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine in an international seminar on community colleagues earlier this year, which helped crystalize our strategy for institutionalizing the community colleges in India. We would like to debut teams of (inaudible) community colleges in the U.S. and also would like the institutional-level cooperation for capacity development support.

In my view, the industry academy engagements will play a key role to take forward the initiatives in research, technology, development, and skill building. Our industry partner organizations like FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM, USIBC, and industries have been participating since the first summit in 2011, and we would like to scale up these engagements at a faster pace, where the U.S. experience will be very helpful to us.

With this long list on the menu, I'm sure that both sides would have very fruitful deliberations later during the day in the working sessions for magnification of these areas and other possible avenues of collaboration. I'm glad to note that the decisions which were taken in the previous dialogues have all been carried forward and have rectified into concrete results in the form of the Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative, the Raman Fellowships, cooperation in community colleges, MOOCs, cyber systems, and the Connect India program, to name a few.

So before I conclude, let me congratulate the signatories of the different memorandums of understandings and once again take the opportunity to express my deep appreciation and thanks to his Excellency, Secretary John Kerry and his team for making it convenient to travel to India and to participate in today's dialogue, which I'm sure will be yet another significant milestone in the higher education collaboration between the two countries.

I would -- before I invite his Excellency, John Kerry, to deliver his address, I would like to thank you all for being here. Thank you. (Inaudible.) (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everybody. I'm not sure I'm going to deliver an address. If you want an address, I live at 19 Louisburg Square. No, I'm just joking. (Laughter.) Minister Pallam Raju, thank you very much for your welcome here. You have introduced all of the dignitaries. Madam Ambassador, good to be with you, and our Ambassador, thank you for your welcome here. And to all of our assembled guests, Secretary Thakur, and to all of our educators, administrators, and interested individuals in this subject, which is most critical to all of us, I want to thank you for the privilege of being here and sharing just a few thoughts with you.

And I appreciate the comments, the agenda, that the Minister just set out. It's comprehensive, and it has to be. We were sitting in the room out there talking a few minutes ago, and he informed me that you have 230 million kids in school. That's about 60 percent of the population of the United States. And you have 19 million kids who will be going into the 9th grade in one year. 4.5 million teachers -- I actually listened to you. I was very -- (laughter) -- I was really bowled over by the challenge of that. I can't imagine managing that. And we had a good discussion about how your states are involved, as our states are involved, and the challenge of delivering education.

And as I was listening to it, I thought, as the Minister reminded us all of us of his links to Massachusetts -- which obviously I'm partial to, and he just was there a couple of weeks ago at Boston University and elsewhere -- it reminded me of the great foundation that we have in Massachusetts, a passion really for education. So I think we share that.

Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, is the founder of America's education system, and he believed it ought to be free and available to everybody and it ought to compulsory and everybody ought to go to school. And needless to say, here in India, you've done an enormous job of embracing that notion with primary requirements for every kid up to the age of 14, which is a remarkable undertaking. And I asked the Minister sort of how many of those kids then go on, and he told me that the large majority, many more than ever before, because of the recognition of everybody that you need to be able to achieve that.

So this is a special challenge. We in Massachusetts are particularly partial to it. I think we have something like 140-plus colleges and universities, and many of them you've heard of. We're proud of that. People come from all over the world to go to school in the state of Massachusetts. And I'm reminded of the words of John Adams, who was, as you all know, a President of the United States from Massachusetts, second President. He said that: I must study politics and war so that my sons can study philosophy and mathematics and so that their sons can study poetry and painting and music and architecture. You in India have understood that probably for as long as John Adams -- since he said it, and maybe well before that.

But it really emphasizes to us the criticality of what we're meeting on here today and of the world that we live in today, the challenges of the world that we live in today. So this is a very important meeting, and I want thank all those in our team who have helped to bring this meeting about and yours. This is a very important dialogue. It is the third, so it is growing. We're learning where the important places of emphasis ought to be. We're learning what the challenges are. But there's a great deal we can learn from each other.

And I want to particularly thank and recognize the work of our Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine for her work in this effort. This dialogue marks her last diplomatic engagement before she ends her distinguished career as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and I want to thank her for her leadership on this effort, and I wish her continued success. And I think everybody here would join me in expressing our appreciation for this wonderful final chapter for her as a public diplomacy leader. Thank you, Tara, very, very much. (Applause.)

In the short amount of time that they allot to Secretaries of State to be able to stay in one place -- (laughter) -- we've been able to jam a lot into this meeting. And I feel like I have really soaked in an enormous amount of India and of where things are today and where they're going. I spent a lot of time with leaders across government, beginning with the opportunity to have shared some of my thoughts at the Habitat Center, but then subsequently at a meeting with your business people, with many of your major corporations, some of these leaders who flew in from either Mumbai or Bangalore or other places around the country in order to share thoughts about the challenges that we face. And it is evident from every one of them that all of them are engaged in growth activities, providing jobs, all of which require capacity. They require education. They require training, either science or technology or information management or any number of skills, as do so many of the jobs in the world today.

Just this morning on television, before I left my hotel room, as I was listening to CNN, there was -- or I think it was CNN -- there was a story of the young people of Spain who are engaged in a massive exodus from their country, going to other countries trying to find places to work, educated, four years in, but not able to find work. As I think of the challenge of this planet, in the Middle East, in the Maghreb, in the Sahel in Africa -- Africa will have 100 million kids that they need coming into the education system in the next few years -- these are just gigantic challenges for all of us. And when I look at the populations of every part of that region that I just named, 60 percent of the population under the age of 30, 50 percent under the age of 21, 40 percent under the age of 18, and it's a challenge that you well understand here in India, because 60 percent of your country's under the age of 25.

So of all of the things that government and private sector need to join together on in order to focus, it is this challenge of education so that people not only have the skills to be able to work but so they have the skills to be able to be good citizens, that they can partake in a democracy, that they understand how to process this incredible mass of information that is thrown at people nowadays. It's one thing to have access to it on your BlackBerry or on your iPad or home computer or whatever it is. It's another to be able to know what to do with it, and it's another to be able to sort fiction and fact and to be able to process those facts and put them to work.

So we have enormous challenges, and I think this is a place where India and the United States have a particular capacity to be able to share with the rest of the world because we are so free in our willingness to embrace thinking and to allow people to think what they want and to share information and to share thoughts and to engage with the things that people choose to be engaged in. It's the innovation and the entrepreneurial energy of India that has seen it grow so remarkably in these last years, and everything that will be defined in the future will be defined to some degree by what we do with respect to education.

So I think we should make no mistake that we are obviously already doing a great deal. There's a lot of close cooperation on security issues. We have a robust trade relationship. We collaborate on clean energy, climate change, where incidentally not only can we do a great deal more and would we both benefit from doing more, but we are compelled. There's a moral urgency to do more because of the impact that could have on so many things, from food to simple safety and security, to the ability of people to live where they are living today. These are huge challenges.

What we do know is this, and I build on what Minister Raju said: There is a great deal that we can yet cooperate on and do better on. We need to make sure that the people of our countries are getting everything that they can out of this partnership. We're responsible. We're in the positions of leadership, we have the ability to be able to make choices, to build joint ventures, to do partnerships, to do things that change the outcomes for millions of people. And I think that everybody here is here for one simple reason: to underscore that higher education and a commitment to higher education is absolutely essential in this brave new world that we are all living in.

So we need to make sure that the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs have the skills and the training they need to succeed in the 21st century. But let me just add a twist to that. It's not just innovators and entrepreneurs with respect to business that we need. Its innovators and entrepreneurs with respect to social structures, with respect to the relationships between human beings, with respect to delivery of health care, with respect to the relations between countries and nations, the understandings of religions and of sectarian differences. All of these things are part of what we need to build, not just people who can do business but not have any understanding of the larger obligations of citizenship or of the world around them. And that's why promoting higher education, to me, is a core component of our dialogue, and that is why we set up this dialogue.

So we're going to focus on three areas, I understand, today. First, we're going to look at the importance of community colleges to meeting the demand for higher education on the horizon. 500 million students in India in the next nine years may need the opportunities of community college education. Yet India, obviously, today has a huge shortage of classrooms, teachers, and vocational programs. While we had 4.5 million that the Minister told me, he said we're short 1.5 million. That's a big challenge.

Community colleges, we have found, are a lifeline, and they have an enormous ability to be able to fill a gap in education systems. We're proud of our community college system in the state of Massachusetts, and I've spoken at many a graduation there. I know many students have come out of those colleges and gone on to do extraordinary things, and many of them have been able to use it as a bridge to go on to a full four-year or longer term or even to graduate education beyond that. So I'm pleased that the American Association of Community Colleges and the All-India Council for Technical Education are going to be kicking off a new effort to ramp up community college education in India. I think this is an extraordinarily important initiative.

Second, we also know that people-to-people exchanges are the glue that holds our partnership together and builds an understanding between people and between our countries. Thanks to the Fulbright-Nehru program, more than 18,000 scholars have participated in exchanges between our countries. And our higher education sector welcomes more than 100,000 Indian students who come to the United States at any given time. And we've launched a new initiative, the Passport to India Initiative, to bring American students to India for a hands-on experience in India's private sector. And I'm happy that we have a few Passport interns with us here today. I met a couple of interns who were here just before I came in here, a young man from Columbia, particularly. I asked, he's a senior, going in senior, at Columbia. I said, "Why'd you do this? Why are you coming here?" He said, "Because I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that was different from what everybody else in my school and others are doing."

And out of that will come a lasting relationship between our countries. I've seen that. When I travel to Saudi Arabia, where I am actually leaving momentarily to go to, I will meet with Saud al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister there. Every time I'm there, and I've met with him over the years, he talks to me with pride and affection for his years at Princeton University and his affiliation with that university. I have met more foreign ministers, finance ministers, environment ministers, prime ministers, presidents who with pride point to the fact that they got their education in the United States or in another country.

And it works both ways. It's a two-way street. So I think there's a huge value to this kind of exchange. It helps us avoid conflicts, it helps us build partnerships. And it brings the world even closer together. So we want more of these personal connections, and we want to expand these efforts. And today we are announcing the second round of awards under the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative that will bring our top researchers together to collaborate on scientific discovery and innovation.

Finally, we need to make sure that Indian students have access to the sort of high-tech training that is critical for success in a knowledge-based economy. The government here is working very hard already to integrate modern technology in classrooms throughout the country. But more areas and more open exchange of information promises to broaden the horizons of countless students in this country, and everybody will benefit from that taking place. Technology creates a window to the world that simply didn't exist a generation ago. It just wasn't there.

I can remember as a senator in 1996, I helped write the Telecommunications Act of the United States. And I will tell you that in 1996, which is not so long ago, as we sat and wrote that, the internet was barely out there and all we did was talk about telephones, telephony. And within six months, it was completely obsolete because data and information was what it was all about. To this day, they haven't yet caught up. That's how fast the technology world is changing.

Yesterday, I came into the hotel in the evening and met with our technology innovation environment energy group, and there were five or six demonstration projects there, young kids, two of whom were high school students who have discovered a new system for using the smartphone to be able to transmit a test for glaucoma and you can do it from your smartphone with your self-administered test, a simple little process. And they're not yet out of high school. (Laughter.)

I met another young man, he just graduated from Harvard Business School, back here, who has started a new application on a cell phone which will provide an ability to be able to provide a different kind of test for diabetes with a little instrument that he will hand out and give away for free that you put on the back of your phone, it latches into your camera, and you can transmit the information on your diabetes test -- it sells a little strip; the strip is what you buy -- and you can test yourself every day and send it in and you find out instantly what your needs are. I mean, these are amazing things. Think of what we can do for health, the water, for clean water. How many children die every year because of dirty water and dirty disease, so forth?

So this is where technology is going to take us if we harness its energy properly, and most importantly -- and I emphasize this, I said it earlier -- if we educate people to have values that connect to those uses so it's not just commercial but it's oriented towards building society, building community, and building a better understanding of how we are all in this together.

So I thank you all for your commitment and your partnership. I am confident that this will be an extraordinarily productive conversation, and most importantly, I urge you to make sure that it leads to real outcomes, real outcomes for the students of both of our countries. Thank you for the privilege of being with you. Thank you. (Applause.)


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