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U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Delivers Remarks at Higher Education Summit for Global Development


U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today addressed more than 200 college presidents from the U.S. and overseas, as well as corporate and foundation leaders at the Higher Education Summit for Global Development in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Departments of Education and State and U.S. Agency for International Development, the summit aims to strengthen the role of U.S. and foreign higher education institutions in social and economic development worldwide.

Following are the Secretaryís remarks as prepared:

Thank you all for being here, especially those of you who traveled long distances to be a part of this vital conversation. We have college presidents here from as far as Indonesia and Australia, and from as close as American University here in Washington. No matter what distance youíve traveled, weíre all gathered because we understand the imperative of improving the way we connect with each other to deliver higher education around the world.

Why is this so important? Because Gondwanaland lives!

You might be wondering what Iím talking about. Gondwanaland is the name of the supercontinent that existed 200 million years ago, and combined present day South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, Arabia, and the Indian peninsula. As these landmasses broke apart and spread out, they became distinct and separate entities.

In a recent report, Norm Augustine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, used Gondwanaland as a metaphor for what is happening in the world today - technology and globalization are drawing us back together. The result is increased competition but also, importantly, increased opportunities for cooperation and partnerships to pursue shared goals.

Knowledge has become the single most valuable currency in this changing world. And education continues to be the surest path to opportunity and prosperity. Itís not a panacea, but a necessary foundation upon which progress is built.

In the global knowledge economy, higher education in particular has gone from nice-to-have to a must-have, for individuals as well as for societies. We all must educate more students to higher levels than ever before - and we need to do this in the context of the broader world. Sticking to what you know and whatís inside your campus gates just doesnít cut it anymore.

In this tall task, we have a great opportunity to share strategies and best practices, and benefit from each otherís collective wisdom. After all, when it comes to higher ed, nations around the world are facing many of the same challenges:

* Developing human capital by expanding access to a broad range of postsecondary learning opportunities
* Equipping students to meet the demands of a competitive world
* Ensuring that postsecondary education is affordable for all
* Making our institutions more responsive and accountable to the needs of customers

In my experience, we havenít talked nearly enough about higher ed strategy, nationally, regionally, or globally, this is certainly true here in the U.S. Which doesnít make sense when we know how critical postsecondary education is to increasing quality of life around the world.

There are some cutting edge thinkers out there, many of whom are in this room, but in large part theyíve been islands of innovation, doing great work but not connected to potential partners around the world. We need to find better ways to share and communicate.

This is starting to happen in fits and starts as institutions recognize the imperative of reaching abroad to establish partnerships, joint programs, and student and faculty exchanges. The benefits of such cooperation not only enrich the partnering schools but diffuse throughout society as well.

At the national level, one thing governments can do is to encourage cooperation and reduce barriers to interaction between institutions. Opportunities for students, faculty, and administrators to engage inevitably lead to the discovery of common ground. Ideas start to percolate about how two campuses might come together in an area of shared interest. Thatís part of what this conference is about.

Together with the State Department, my Department has worked to increase opportunities for such cross-fertilization by leading delegations of U.S. college presidents abroad. In 2006, we led delegations to China, Korea, Japan, and India. Just this past year, to Chile and Brazil. These were historic, first-ever U.S. college president delegations overseas.

Our message was to encourage student exchanges, to highlight the depth and breadth of higher education opportunities in the U.S., and to welcome increased collaboration and partnerships.

Let me give you a few examples of international partnerships that can be developed by enterprising minds.

* Mark Wrighton of the Washington University in St. Louis came along to South America and visited the University of Chile. That institution is now part of Washington Universityís McDonnell International Scholars Academy, which trains promising graduate students and encourages international collaboration.
* Bill Brody of Johns Hopkins was with me in Asia. His university just celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Nanjing Center for Chinese American Studies-the first jointly accredited program in China. Johns Hopkinsí international activities and partnerships range from a nursing school in Peking to a music conservatory in Singapore to a public health program in Uganda.
* Eduardo Padrůn of Miami-Dade College joined me in South America as well, where his institution collaborates with a Sao Paolo university on information technology projects to share expertise and give students a global perspective.
* Steadman Upham of the University of Tulsa came along to Asia, and his university has since forged academic agreements with four Chinese universities and a research relationship with a geosciences and petroleum institute.

Congratulations gentlemen! Iím proud that so many colleges and universities of different stripes, from private research universities to one of the nationís largest community colleges, are demonstrating great leadership in international education.

As Tulsaís partnerships demonstrate, substantive and productive partnerships need not be just between schools. Businesses can play a critical role, as can government institutions. The idea is to leverage every possible opportunity to advance opportunities for students, faculty, schools, and even for the business community. The benefits, in turn, diffuse throughout society, as graduates emerge from college better prepared to contribute to their communities, in the context of a globalized world.

The U.S. is working to further expand opportunities for higher education partnerships. My Department will collaborate with the State Department and USAID to host a symposium about the U.S. community college model this year with our broader Middle East and North Africa partners.

Community colleges are something of an American invention, they combine elements of traditional universities with practical, vocational training, a model that can be adapted to meet the needs of local economies around the world.

Already, under the State Departmentís Community College Initiative, we have partnered with countries such as Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey to bring students to American community colleges. They receive English language training, and learn applied skills that will enable them to contribute to their nationsí development when they return home.

When it comes to the benefits of international education, one thing we all need to do is tell our story better, what it means to be connected with each other and how much we all have to gain from closer relationships among our higher education communities. Education is not a zero sum game, the cascading benefits of a single smart strategy, shared widely, can benefit students and communities from Boston or Birmingham to Burundi to Bangkok and Bangalore.

This focus on international education is especially critical today, when we have an urgent need to increase mutual understanding and jointly tackle global challenges.

Education, and higher education in particular, can enhance regional development strategies and enable collaboration on shared challenges from poverty to healthcare to energy. Itís also our most powerful tool for overcoming fear, ignorance, and extremism and promoting respect and mutual appreciation.

The quality of education we deliver is a key determinant of the future we can expect... itís central to world peace, prosperity, and civic development. The more we share, the better the quality of education weíll be able to deliver. I encourage everyone here to use this valuable time together to build relationships and think strategically about how we can work together to improve. Your efforts can help build a better and more hopeful world.


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