U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Blinken Underscores U.S. Commitment to Education in Pakistan

December 10, 2015

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
HEC Event

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Good morning. It’s wonderful to be here with all of you today. Thank you so much for welcoming me here, welcoming all of my colleagues, both from the embassy and also from Washington who are here with me today. And Mr. Chairman, thank you for your warmth and hospitality and your very very insightful remarks.

This is an incredibly impressive gathering. Students, teachers, administrators, and it is, you are a testament to the Higher Education Commission’s extraordinary work to foster a new generation of inspired and engaged leaders.

We in the United States are very proud of our partnerships and we’re especially proud of the talented professionals and students that they help to support.

Now when I get to travel around the world on behalf of the United States I spend a lot of time in meetings with my counterparts from the government in the country that we’re visiting. And we spend a lot of time in very nice conference rooms and meeting rooms. But as much as I love doing that, this is by far the most exciting and energizing part of my day, and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to start this day with all of you.

The conversations that I’m privileged to have with young people around the world are quite literally a highlight of every trip that I take. With every meeting, it’s increasingly clear to me how much difference one individual can make in their society when they’re equipped with one thing — a quality education. And if they bring to that a global perspective, their potential, their horizons and the potential and horizons of the countries that they’re from are, I believe, limitless.

As many of you know, and as we heard a moment ago, President Obama, our First Lady Michelle Obama, are firm believers in the power and potential of young people to realize dreams, build new bridges between countries and meet global challenges together. Our responsibility in government is to help you and equip you to do that. That was exactly the message that the First Lady delivered with First Daughter Maryam Sharif at the White House this past October when I think many of you heard they announced a joint commitment to expand access to education for girls. Under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s leadership, Pakistan has already doubled its higher education budget since 2013 and set a goal of doubling expenditures for education by 2018. But this focus on girls and young women is absolutely essential. A country cannot get ahead if it leaves half its population behind. So we’re grateful for the emphasis on that.

We’re a proud partner, as I said, in these efforts, and you’ve heard some of the statistics. But every year the United States sponsors over 140 programs and helps 320,000 people from all around the world come to the United States. And one of the things I’m proudest of as part of the American administration are these exchange programs, academic and others. They are a foundation for our relationships with countries and peoples going forward far into the future.

Here in Pakistan we have an alumni network, veterans of these programs, that numbers 15,000. [Applause]. Thank you. Diplomats, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, innovators, and they’ve experienced these programs and opportunities but they’ve come back home to Pakistan and helped to create jobs, they expand opportunity for their fellow citizens. This is a deep and lasting connection that we’re committed to growing.

As Prime Minister Sharif described during his recent visit to the United States, and as we heard this morning, we’re working together to establish the U.S.-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor that will foster innovation and research in both of our countries. And I want to applaud, again Chairman [Amat’s] extremely extraordinary announcement today to send up to 125 PhD students from Pakistan to the United States through the Fulbright program. And as you know and as you heard, the Fulbright which is something we’re very very proud of. The largest Fulbright program in the world is here in Pakistan. [Applause].

Every single day in ways large and small the ties that bind our countries together are enriched by these students. They gain lifelong friends, a life time of memories, and a commitment to the relationship between our countries that typically endures long after they’ve returned home.

We’re also working closely with the government of Pakistan to strengthen education in towns and cities across the country, from Jamshoro to Peshawar. Together we’ve established Pakistan’s first national reading standard and introduced a reading instruction curriculum for university degrees in education. At the same time, we’re very proud that we’ve been able to help build or repair nearly 1,000 schools, established over 20 U.S.-Pakistan university partnerships, supported than 12,000 scholarships for students to attend Pakistani institutions of higher education. [Applause]. Thank you.

These partnerships in education have taken on a new urgency in a world where an astounding number of countries have 60 percent of their populations under the age of 30. Here in Pakistan, 64 percent of your population, as you know, is under 30. And yet, despite the tremendous efforts that are being made, still more than one-third of children fail to complete primary school, and more than half of all 5th graders are unable to read at a 2nd grade level. This rising generation needs above all else quality education. They need to build the skills and gain the knowledge that will make it possible for them to realize their full potential as creative, innovative, inquisitive, productive members of Pakistani society, and in this increasingly connected world, global society.

And I have to tell you, we also have a self-interest in this. By investing in their future we’re helping to secure our own. The alternative is too tragic to contemplate and we see it in different places in the world. Without a quality education children in different places in the world are in danger of becoming a lost generation, of being exploited, forced to work, pressured into marriage, or becoming prey even to the siren song of violent extremism. So that’s why investments in education are prerequisites for long-term security as well as sustainable development. By equipping students with a world perspective rooted in respect, in social justice, in diversity, and especially in critical thinking, we can expand horizons while allowing here in Pakistan the economy to grow and society to flourish.

And I can’t emphasize enough the absolute fundamental importance of critical thinking, of asking questions, of challenging conventional wisdom, asking why. That is at the foundation of any quality education.

Now 50 or 100 years ago if you were to ask a professor, an expert, how do you define, how do you calculate the wealth of a nation, you would probably get an answer that said well, the best way to calculate the wealth of a nation is how big is the country? How many people does it have? How large is its land mass? How strong is its military? How great are its abundance of natural resources? And all of those things can remain important. They still matter. And indeed, the United States and Pakistan are blessed with a number of them.

But I think what we know now is that if you ask that question today, what constitutes the wealth of a nation, the real answer is it’s human resource and their potential. And a country that is able to unleash that potential, to allow them to learn, to create, to innovate, to question, and even if necessary to fail, that country is going to be very very wealthy indeed in the 21st century. That is the wealth of nations in the 21st century. It’s an extraordinary and rich resource and it includes everyone in this auditorium today. We look to you not only as representatives of your universities or communities, but as leaders of a young, rising generation. The choices you make will help shape the force of this country and we’re committed to doing all that we can to support you, your visions, your plans for your future.

So thank you in advance for all that you’re doing to build a strong, prosperous successful Pakistan and a strong and enduring relationship between Pakistan and the United States. It’s wonderful to be with you today. Thank you very much.

Moderator: Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken, for your inspiring remarks. This is our hope.

Now the session we are going to have is reminiscent of what’s going on in your country in New Hampshire, in Iowa. Town Hall. So today we are going to have a little town hall meeting and I invite Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, chairman of Higher Education Commission and you to take part in this. There will be a few questions coming from our participants in the Fulbright program, [Merit of] Need Based Program, and Teacher Education Programs and then obviously there will be one or two questions from Higher Education Commission.

Dr. Ahmed: Thank you, Dr. ____, thank you very much Excellency. Wonderful speech, and believe me we are [inaudible] this country. We have around 47 million people who are in the age group of 17 to 23. And the government realizes that we have to invest in them. Unfortunately, the resource constraints are the thing we are only able to get the excess up to now is 8.3 percent of [inaudible] education excess aid. Though the government has supported more than 9,000 people to go abroad to do PhDs and degree programs, around 28,000 scholarships has been given in-house to get their higher education in Pakistan. But still it is a long way to go. I agree 100 percent with you that this is the real asset of this wealth any country can have.

So keeping in view, ladies and gentlemen, the time constraint, I will only pick three or four people. We are doing some math, people should send their request, that who is interested to ask questions. So quick three to four questions because Excellency has to go for next meeting. Of course later after this meeting we are going to have a session where people from USAID, people from Fulbright and people from HEC, they will be sitting and answering all kinds of questions you are having in your mind.

So let me ask the first questioner who has interest that she wanted to ask question. She is a teacher who has benefited from USAID Pakistan reading project. Ms. [Nabila Hambrin].

Voice: Good morning, sir. I am [inaudible] USAID Reading Project Scholarship. I am from [Inaudible] University, in my last semester, so I am really excited that I will be teaching in next year [inaudible]. And the credit really goes to my teachers.

So sir, I would like you, if you’d just reflect on your education career. Was there a particular teacher who inspired you or had a significant impact in your life?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Thank you very much. And congratulations, first of all.

I had an interesting experience because I’m born in New York City, in the United States, but at the age of nine with my family I moved to France and so from the age of nine to eighteen, until I came back to the United States to university, my education was actually in France, in Paris. The school that I attended was a French-run school with a primarily French curriculum, but with a lot of international students as well. So it was a wonderful place to meet people from all over the world, and of course many French students as well.

The short answer is yes. It’s interesting. And I bet if you asked anyone in this audience, probably most of us would have the same answer. I can think of two or three teachers in particular who had a tremendous influence on me, on the way I thought about the world, on inspiring me to learn and to open my mind.

I had a teacher who was French who taught economics and political science, his name is Elon Berribi, and to this day, many many years later, I still think about the lessons he taught me.

I had another teacher who was from Scotland, but teaching in Paris, whose name was Mr. McCray, and he too had that same kind of inspirational ability to reach. And I can think of several others.

But I hope for all of you who are teachers or who are going into teaching, that should be your objective. Your objective in part should be that 20 or 30 years later a student that you touched will still remember and be inspired by what you did.

Let me say one other thing and it’s a little off point, but it was actually quite extraordinary. About two weeks ago I was in Jordan and then Turkey and then finally Iraq. And during the course of that trip we worked to meet with many of the young refugee children from Syria who had gone to Turkey and to Jordan. And one of the things I did is I visited schools where it’s so important that they are still able to get an education.

I stopped in a first grade classroom, and I have to say the teacher was absolutely extraordinary. You could just see the excitement in the eyes of these young children as she was asking them questions. They were answering, and they all were jumping up and wanting to be recognized, raising their hands. Then she would clap for them when they got the right answer.

But it was the back and forth, and you could just see that she had connected with them. These are young refugees who have lost everything, who have uprooted their lives. And yet the thirst for learning was still there because this teacher helped draw it out of them.

It’s incredibly inspirational, and I don’t think there is any higher calling than being a teacher. And even if I didn’t believe that, I would have to tell you that because my mother-in-law’s a teacher.

Dr. Ahmed: I think the last one was good. Thank you, Excellency.

We’ve got tens of those request that they want to ask questions, but we’ll pick one from each program because of time constraint. Let’s have a question from a beneficiary of Need Based Scholarship. So the first request came from Mr. [Zolfakar]. Do we have Mr. Zolfakar? Then let’s have a question from Fulbright program. We have a request from Ms. Mina Tarik.

Audience: Thank you. My name is Mina Tarik. I was on the Fulbright. I did my MBA in entrepreneurship. My question is relating to entrepreneurship.

I wanted to ask, and I know we are focusing a lot on sciences, et cetera. I wanted to ask, in your opinion what can the U.S. and Pakistani government as well as the Higher Education Commission, be doing or is doing to encourage entrepreneurship across borders and entrepreneurial thinking in our students?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: It’s a great question. We spent a little bit of time yesterday evening with some young entrepreneurs from here in Pakistan, several of whom, in fact almost all of them had benefited in one fashion or another from an exchange program and had been able to come to the United States.

I think one of the things we’re trying to do is connect young entrepreneurs in Pakistan and indeed around the world with their counterparts in the United States, so we have programs — some long, some short — where we bring people to the United States, connect them with entrepreneurs, with innovators, and we find that it’s incredibly mutually inspiring because first, no one has a monopoly on good ideas, and what we’re learning from young people, young entrepreneurs and innovators who come to the United States are extraordinary things. They’re able to connect up with people in the United States and many things have come from this. It’s helped I think young people in different countries learn some of the skills that go into starting a business. That’s one of the experiences that we can impart.

It’s also helped create something really important, and that is mentors. I think it’s really important for people who are just starting out as entrepreneurs, as innovators, to be able to be connected with someone who’s gone through what they’re just starting and has learned w2hat’s challenging, what’s a problem, how to overcome some of these challenges. And that can be practically helpful and also inspiring. So that’s one of the other things that we do.

I’ll give you an example. We have one program in Africa called Tech Women.  And what we do is we identify in countries young women who are interested in technology and in innovation and entrepreneurship and technology, bring them to the United States, for example to Silicon Valley. They spend several weeks or a month at some of our big companies — Google, Facebook, Apple — and each young woman is matched with a successful woman executive or entrepreneur/innovator from that company. What’s wonderful is those relationships continue long after someone’s returned home. But even more interesting, when you bring people from let’s say Pakistan together for a program, they make connections in the United States, but they also make connections among each other. Those connections among Pakistanis who are coming together on a program are hugely hugely valuable and we’ve found that they last for a long time.

So I think our role, in short, one of the roles that we can play in government is quite literally connecting people and facilitating those connections, and having people learn from each other.

The last thing I’d say is this. I remember years ago traveling with President Clinton to a far-off country where we were having a roundtable about some of the problems and challenges that that country was facing.  Some young people were telling us their ideas for solutions.  And it was interesting, because we were facing some of the same challenges in the United States and there was one area where someone proposed an idea and the President at the time thought, we can do that in the United States. That makes a lot of sense.

The reflection that he had from that was that somewhere around the world at any given time someone is finding an answer to a challenge and the challenge for us is to make sure that that person can be connected with many other people, to share that knowledge, to share that experience. That’s one of the things that we can do in government.

Dr. Ahmed: Thank you. We are also doing, Excellency, a lot of initiatives we have done in the higher education sector, especially as you said to create facilitation and personal networking. We are helping our universities to set up incubation center, technology pods, the establishment of ORICs, the Office of Research, Innovation and Commercialization at almost every university, and we have recently established 11 centers in different universities and our target is to complete the cycle to all universities, that they have a focused entrepreneurial center in their universities where they are going to provide opportunity for this mentoring, for other things.

At the same time we are establishing, we are setting up a fund where we’re calling it chain maker, basically, to given youth opportunity that they should come up with an idea, we are going to fund the best ideas every year, and not only fund those ideas but also give opportunity to those doable projects that they should work with the universities to initial research project. And not only initial research project but business plan and also prototype level. So the government is also working on these things.

Thank you for this question.

I got the message that the Need Based Scholarship people are saying we have to give them one chance. So I received the name Hafez Mohammed Amit from those opportunities regard the Need Based Scholarship. He want to say something.

Audience: ood morning everyone. My name is Hafez Mohammed Amit.  I am alumni of USAID NBS program. I belong from a southern part of the Punjab in Pakistan currently working as a manager of [copper seals] in the TCS [inaudible], that’s a leading company in [inaudible] logistics within Pakistan.

My question is, is it possible if you give a chance to those students who are already on the panel of USAID to get one or two semesters education from the USA just to learn about the culture of the USA? Just to share about their culture with USA and the U.S. people as well? I know there are certain laws from both of the countries but can you make a bridge, something like that in which you may help those students who are really inspired by the education of the USA? And as well as the ranking of the U.S. universities.

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Thank you very much.

One of the biggest priorities that we have as a government, generally speaking, is to bring more and more people, young people from around the world to study in the United States at all different levels. But also, I should tell you, to send more Americans abroad.

And so we are constantly looking at the programs that we have to do this, and so beyond the different exchange programs that we have in a variety of places, there’s a big emphasis on helping students who are interested come study in the United States. And if you go to our embassy’s web site, for example, there is a tremendous amount of information to be found on how to do that, what the programs are that might support you. And of course we have meetings and open houses of other kinds that provide that information. But it is something that we’re very very focused on because it goes back to this simple proposition. We create through these programs and especially bringing people over for education, extraordinarily lasting bonds between our countries. We benefit tremendously from the ideas, the energy, the enthusiasm and the different perspective that foreign students bring to the United States, and we believe that ultimately they benefit when they go home hopefully having acquired some additional knowledge, experience and friendships.

So for us, this is one of the single best investments we can make in the future. So we’re constantly looking for ways to do it.

Now it’s also true that we live in challenging budget times. Resources are not what we would like them to be, but it is a priority. And with regard to the specifics, I would invite you to talk to members of our embassy or AID teams who are here, and again, to look at the resources that we have available. Most of it’s on-line with the embassy site or the State Department site.

Moderator: Thank you, sir. I think we are really have opportunity especially those institutions, 21 and 19 universities, university collaboration through embassy of Pakistan we have established, and they are starting the giant program where they are going to have 2+2, 3+1 year program, part of their education will be in U.S. and the remaining in Pakistan, and opportunities are there as Excellency Deputy Secretary said.

The last question from ATZ, Dr. [Bahti]. Time constraint. After the break we can have more questions.

Audience: Thank you, Doctor. I am looking after the Executive Director of Office of Higher Education Commission and I am alumni of Fulbright.

The previous questioner led with the, to go to U.S. There’s the visa. So what the State Department can do to the students or scholars who got admission in U.S. universities to have a visa in the time to avoid such delay in session to join their universities, their respective universities?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Thank you very much.

We placed a priority on processing visas for students and the process is actually very straightforward. And in fact if you look at what we’re doing, and maybe some of you have experienced this, but generally speaking actually, they’re not really delays with the student visa issuance programs. Usually you can get an appointment within a day or two days and move forward. Again, we place a priority on processing these.

But I will say this.  It’s very very important to be well prepared. To have made sure that you have looked very carefully at all the requirements, brought together all of the necessary paperwork, and come to an interview for a visa fully prepared.  If you do and if you are, usually the process moves very very smoothly. And actually, we’ve had very very few instances of delays that resulted in people, for example, having to be late for the start of an academic year. And often the problem may be on the academic institution not having sent the appropriate paperwork.

So I can tell you that at least when we’ve looked at it overall, the process for issuing student visas is working well.

That said, if you encounter a particular problem or a particular delay we have extraordinarily dedicated professionals at our embassy who are focused entirely on this, and from what I’ve seen around the world, they are very open to working through any challenges and any problems.

But it really is a priority and I think that if you’re a student applying for a visa, if you’re prepared, if you have all the paperwork in shape, it should be a relatively smooth process.

Dr. Ahmed: I think you are right, Excellency. We are getting better results now. It is a little way around, actually. When we invite some [inaudible] from States, sometimes those advisory, travel advisories is creating the hurdle. Otherwise there is no issue. But now we are getting very fast, our embassies, very proactive, and even we can do Dr. [inaudible], we can get some expert and ask them to train our people because this is the issue. If you have complete information, properly completed, there is no problem. But the other way around, we have some problem.

Thank you.

I think that’s it.