Deputy Chief of Mission Kelly Degnan Remarks at International Education Week Event
Rome, Villa Pinciana, November 21, 2017
(as prepared for delivery)
Good evening and welcome to Villa Pinciana. I am pleased to host such a distinguished group of guests from the Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs officials, rectors, members of the Italian and American academic community and exchange alumni.
This evening we celebrate International Education Week – which was last week, but as you know, scheduling events is not always easy.
We have invited you here tonight to underscore our common goal and passion to help our fellow citizens, especially youth, find their places in a globalized world through the pursuit of academic excellence and educational exchange.
This passion is at the heart of International Education Week. International Education Week is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. It is designed to help build and sustain a democratic, secure and prosperous global community and to prepare young Americans to participate meaningfully in our increasingly interconnected world.
We accomplish these goals in different ways. First and foremost, we promote programs that encourage young Americans to study abroad. During academic year 2015-2016, more than 325,000 American students participated in some form of study abroad experience.
It is obvious to anyone who lives in Rome, Florence or Bologna that Italy is an extremely popular destination for many of these students. In fact, more than ten percent of the total – about 35,000 – came to Italy to study last year. You might be interested to know that Italy is the second most popular destination for American study abroad experiences while the United Kingdom is the top destination and Spain comes in third.
International Education Week is also an opportunity to promote programs that attract talented young people from abroad to study in the United States. During the 2015-2016 academic year, more than one million international students pursued their studies at universities and colleges across the United States. Not surprising, China and India accounted for the largest numbers. 350,000 – or a little more than one-third of the students – were from China; and approximately 190,000 – or nearly twenty percent – were from India. At the same time, there were approximately 5,600 Italians students studying in the United States.
I know the number of Italian students in the United States may seem low by comparison but I did a little bit of back-of-the-envelope arithmetic recently. Assuming my math skills are still sharp, I was pleasantly surprised to find that as a percentage of population, Italy sends as many students to the United States as does India!
But whether from China, India or Italy, this exchange experience clearly enriched their lives and the lives of those Americans with whom they studied and lived.
Receiving international students from diverse backgrounds at U.S. institutions and encouraging American students to study abroad directly strengthens ties between the United States and other countries. It helps to develop the relationships and mutual understanding between people and communities that are necessary to solve global challenges.
Encouraging educational exchanges between nations is also vital to our countries’ respective economic competitiveness and growth. U.S. communities and institutions gain intellectual and cross-cultural capital as well as enhanced business and professional networks from contacts with students, teachers and scholars from abroad.
International students also benefit U.S. communities, colleges and universities, in other ways, including economically. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2016 international students contributed $39 billion to the American economy through their spending on tuition, room and board, and living expenses. At the same time, authorities estimate that American study abroad programs in Italy contributed more than 600 million euros to Italy’s economy and supported 12,000 jobs.
For all of these reasons, I am so pleased to highlight tonight the strong support for educational exchange between Italy and the United States. Several of you here tonight are alumni of educational exchange programs, including the Fulbright program – the crown jewel of U.S. government-sponsored educational exchange programs. I would like to recognize the superb leadership of Fulbright Commission Director Paola Sartorio and her team, and the Fulbright Board members here tonight, who are all such excellent stewards of this valuable program. And I look forward to talking with all of you exchange alumni this evening to learn how your exchange experiences may have helped shape your professional development and your personal perspectives.
In addition to promoting academic exchanges, the U.S. Mission to Italy has always had a strong interest in developing and maintaining fruitful relationships with Italian academia. Indeed, one of our public diplomacy priorities is to support and promote American Studies programs at Italian universities. Traditionally, American Studies has been a key connection with Italian students and universities, and an important vehicle for sharing American values, history and culture.
But while we hear that Italian undergraduate and graduate students remain keenly interested in studying American literature and history, for several years now Italian universities have suffered a general decline in the number of professors in all disciplines, resulting in particularly severe cuts in American Studies courses.
After consultations with American Studies experts – many whom we are welcoming here tonight – we decided to focus our support on three principal areas.
First, the American Studies Initiative. In partnership with AISNA and the Centro Studi Americani, we are directly supporting temporary adjunct professorships at ten universities: five in American history, one each at the Universities of Trento, Naples L’Orientale, Pavia, Macerata and Cagliari; and five in American literature, one each at the Universities of Pisa, Urbino, Genoa, Bari and Florence.
The purpose of the American Studies Initiative is two-fold: one, it creates temporary new faculty positions, thus allowing more students to pursue an American Studies curriculum and meeting increased student demand for these classes. And two, we hope to encourage universities to create and fund additional, permanent American Studies teaching positions in the future. In this regard, I would like to share a success story: the University of Naples L’Orientale recently announced that it would fund a new tenure track adjunct professorship in American history and international relations… bravo L’Orientale! We hope other universities will also follow this very positive example and we thank the participating universities for their enthusiastic partnership.
Our second initiative is a program we call American Voices. We have invited the hundreds of American professors affiliated with American study abroad programs here in Italy to volunteer their time and give one or more lectures on American themes at Italian universities. With this program, we hope to encourage more Italian students to pursue American Studies and give them opportunities to hear from, and engage with, authentic American voices. We also hope these lectures will promote cooperative ventures between Italian universities and American universities with study abroad programs in Italy.
Our third focus is brand new and I am proud to say we will launch it here this evening. It is a webpage dedicated to American Studies in Italy. It features news and events relating to American Studies and culture; online resources for students and professors; links to academic journals and professional organizations, and access to the EducationUSA portal.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, let’s go online and launch the page!
It looks great, doesn’t it? I encourage all of you to scroll through at your leisure…please be sure and take a bookmark home with you which reminds about the website address, and share the news with your students and academic colleagues.
So, in closing and in the spirit of International Education Week, let me express our commitment to, and continuing support of, international educational exchanges and the growth of American Studies at Italian universities. And reiterate our thanks to each and every one of you who are doing so much to support and grow these partnerships!
Please enjoy the rest of the evening!