Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
September 16, 2010

As prepared for delivery

Good afternoon and a warm welcome to the State Department! My name is Bob Blake – I serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.

I’m so pleased and honored to host such a dynamic and unique group of higher education leaders, esteemed academics, and intellectual visionaries here this afternoon. You represent some of the most dynamic educational institutions in the United States, which is of course home to the best system of higher education in the world.

You know, I was thinking about how many smart people are in this room today. It reminds me of a story about President John F. Kennedy, who once held a White House dinner for all the American Nobel laureates - then living - in 1962.

The story goes that over hors d’oeurves, one of the guests said to him: “Mr President, there must be more intelligence gathered under this roof tonight than ever before.” “Yes,” replied Kennedy, “except for when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Today we are pleased and honored to have at least 25 or more leaders and experts here to offer strategic advice on how we can build more U.S. higher education partnerships and opportunities in India.

Before I begin, I’d first like to introduce two people who share my and all of your passion about higher education partnerships and collaboration with India:

Dr. Alyssa Ayres is our new Deputy Assistant Secretary for SCA. Alyssa brings more than 20 years of expertise following India and South Asian issues, and has exceptional experiences in the higher education arena – as a student at Havard and the University of Chicago and as a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania – from which to draw upon. Alyssa will be an invaluable asset to the Bureau as we prepare for President Obama’s historic visit to India in November.

Also, it is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Molly Maguire Teas, who serves as my Senior Advisor on Education issues. Molly previously worked for over 15 years in international development, most recently for the World Bank. Having spent nearly a decade living in the region, Molly’s on-the-ground experience in South Asia is formidable and she will continue to serve as my interlocutor to all of you, as we as we continue to foster higher education cooperation with India.
I’d like to begin the roundtable by providing a brief rundown on U.S. relations with India, to help inform this discussion. In short, thanks to the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the U.S. aims to forge a partnership with India that will help shape the 21st century.

No other country has the humanitarian legacy, thriving democracy, economic promise and sheer human capital that India has. This is one important reason why President Obama has called India an “indispensable partner” for the U.S.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton elevated our relations with India by establishing a Strategic Dialogue last year which convened for the first time in June, here in Washington.
The purpose of the Dialogue is to give senior-level strategic direction to the many working groups and dialogues already in progress, and to conceive new initiatives that will further propel our countries towards prosperity.

As we plan for the President’s visit, we’re looking at marking achievements in three thematic groups:

1) technology, innovation, and trade, which you can think of as India’s economic rise;
2) inclusive growth and mutual prosperity, to help lift millions of Indians out of poverty; and
3) defense, security, and our support for India’s growing global role and influence.

Although our discussions today center on higher education opportunities in India, and the vital role that U.S. institution’s can play in shaping our educational dialogue with India, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the symbiosis between higher education and all three of our thematic groups.

A strong education system in both the United States and India is at the crux of each nation’s knowledge-based economy, and will fuel innovation and cooperation for decades to come.
As for India, the projections of its future growth are staggering:

  • The National Intelligence Council and Goldman Sachs project that India will be the third largest economy in the world by 2025.
  • In his keynote speech to the USIBC in June, Larry Summers predicted that the India of 2040 may well be a nation of “over a billion people in middle-class living standards.
  • India is also a young country: half its population is under age 25.
  • As for infrastructure needs, the numbers are no less staggering. 80% of the India of 2030 has yet to even be built. By that year there will be a need for “14-18 billion square feet of retail, commercial, and residential floor space” that will need to be built – and, as Dobbs points out, “equivalent to almost four New Yorks.”
  • And finally, the number of jobs in the urban centers of India will double to over 200 million, by 2025. To demonstrate the importance of skilled labor in India – and the education that is required for it – over three-quarters of those urban jobs will be in the service sector.

These are of course mere projections, but they underline the central role that education will play in ensuring a new generation of Indians have the skills they need to lead India in this new century.

Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal, and most leaders in the Indian government, realize that international partnerships are the only way that India will be able to meet its rising demand for education and training opportunities.

Today, I hope we can begin a conversation about what we – the United States government, higher education institutions, academics, NGO and foundation leaders, and private sector officials – can do to further enhance partnership and cooperation on higher education issues between the United States and India. We in the State Department and our other Government colleagues are particularly interested to learn how we can support all of your efforts to expand your engagement in India.

The benefits to both countries of Indo-US collaboration in education are innumerable. Given the recent success of the U.S.-India partnership, I’m confident that our two knowledge societies can continue to find new and innovative ways to provide learning, training, enlightenment, and hope to future generations, be it in Houston or Hyderabad, New York or New Delhi.

It is now my pleasure to now hand the reins over to Molly, who will brief us on the latest developments regarding the Higher Education Bill, currently awaiting a final vote in the Indian Parliament. Once again, thank you very much for joining us here today. I am excited to work together with you, in the weeks and months to come.