I welcome Mr. James Steinberg, Deputy Secretary of State, Ms. Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Mr. Eduardo M. Ochoa, Assistant Secretary, Department of Education, Mr. Anish Goel, Senior Director, National Security Council, participating Fulbright Scholars and other guests, to the Embassy today.
It is a privilege to have all of you here, on this important occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Nehru-Fulbright Educational Exchange Programme. We are indeed very happy to note that one of the oldest cooperation arrangements between our two countries, (the Fulbright Programme in India was started in February 1950) is a major success. The Programme has benefitted both countries and the success stands testimony to the words of Senator J.W. Fulbright who described it as "....a modest program with an immodest aim". It has fully achieved the founding concept of the programme to increase mutual understanding between the people of both our countries.
A key element in the relationship between India and the United States has been that it is people-centric and responds to popular aspirations going beyond the calculations of political expediency. There is clear bipartisan support in the United States and an all-party political consensus in India for closer relations between our two countries. The complementarities between our two countries - democracy, existence of the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free media, a vibrant civil society, and commitment to secularism - provide a strong basis for mutually beneficial cooperation. People to people contact not only in terms of political leadership or business transactions, but also through long term association of students, scholars and researchers, has been an important component for the strengthening of the relationship. The Nehru-Fulbright Education Exchange Programme plays a stellar role in this aspect. There are many noteworthy alumni who have utilized the opportunity to expand their horizons through the programme, including our present External Affairs Minister, Mr. S.M. Krishna. The total number of such scholars from India exceeds 16,700. Each one of the over 16 thousand Fulbright scholars act as Ambassadors on the ground bringing a great deal of understanding to the bilateral relationship. They complement our bilateral initiatives through their research and studies. They bring to the U.S. their experience, culture, personality and also a piece of India with them during their stint and help in propagating awareness of India amongst their U.S. friends.
The programme has transformed into a two-way exchange since 2008 when both countries signed a new bilateral Agreement. From being a U.S. funded programme, this Agreement converted it into a scholarship programme which would be implemented by the Governments of both India and the United States as full partners and also increased the total scholarship amount awarded annually to US $ 4.6 million, a 100% increase from the existing level. The programme will continue to finance studies, research, instruction and other educational activities; visits and exchanges of students, trainees, teachers, instructors and professors in both directions.
India is a young country, with over 50% of her population below the age of 35. They are the harbingers of future growth of the country. In the recently concluded successful visit of President Obama to India, both our leaders recognized that the full future potential of the partnership lies in the hands of the next generation in both countries. They agreed to convene an India-U.S. Higher Education Summit, in 2011, as part of a continued effort to strengthen educational opportunities. This is an ongoing process, as during the visit of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to the U.S. in November 2009, both our leaders launched the Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative with funding from both sides to increase university linkages and junior faculty development exchanges between Indian and the U.S. Universities. Both India and the U.S. announced a matching contribution of USD 5 million to the initiative for five years.
There are around 3 million Indian Americans in the United States, who have made the U.S. their home. Most of them are highly educated in technical fields and have contributed immensely to the economy of their adopted country and to the perception of India amongst the American public, through their expertise, perseverance and hard work. Like the Fulbright scholars, these Indian Americans have contributed in their own ways to India’s social and economic progress by linking back to the land of their ancestors, helping to change perspectives and outlooks and bringing a modernizing impetus to a traditional society. I often counter the cliche of "brain drain" in India's context with the concept of "brain circulation". Some of the Indian Americans are also offering precious insights to help India’s rejuvenation through our Prime Minister’s Global Advisory Council of Overseas Indians. These efforts are appreciated by the people and the Government of India and are a source of new warmth in the bonds between our people.
India has among the largest number of students in various American Universities pursuing higher education, numbering over 100,000. It is also interesting to know that over 60% of all Indian international students prefer USA as their destination for higher education. Further, individual Universities and Technical institutions of India and the U.S. have collaboration for teacher-student exchange programmes, curriculum design etc. We have also set up Indian study centres/Initiatives at the Universities of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Yale, Michigan and Duke. Certain fellowships and Chairs, like the Amartya Sen Fellowship at the Harvard University, the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Chair and the Bhagwati scholarships at the Columbia University, have also been set up. These exchanges have contributed to a strengthening of mutual understanding and cooperation, particularly in the knowledge and innovation intensive sectors.
India-U.S. cooperation in the field of education is today poised for major expansion. With a young population, there is greater demand in India for expanding the education infrastructure. The Government of India sees education as critical for achieving its goals to have inclusive growth and to realize the potential for taking the Indian economy to a higher growth trajectory. The Government has announced major initiatives for massive expansion and upgradation of the education infrastructure of schools, universities and institutes imparting vocational training. To accomplish this, we are increasing Government expenditure on education from around 10% to 19%. A bill in the Parliament has also been introduced to open up the education sector for Foreign Universities. This provides an excellent opportunity for U.S. universities to increase the number of Indian students studying in their Institutions, not only in the United States, but also in India, through opening up of their off-shore locations or through tie-ups with Indian institutions.
We can see that the Nehru-Fulbright Education Exchange Programme which nurtured educational cooperation at a time when political ties were not so robust, has contributed to transforming the relationship between our two countries. The experience gained in the last 60 years has not only enhanced confidence and broadened horizons, but has also created new opportunities for positive partnerships in the field of education. It was Gandhiji, who said that, "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any." To this extent, the “Fulbrighters” are the carriers of the fundamental principles of international partnership and mutual understanding, which remain at the core of the Nehru-Fulbright Programme Mission.