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Transcript of ITA Under-Secretary
Franklin Lavin's Speech to the
University President's Summit
At the U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
January 13, 2006

UNDER SECRETARY LAVIN: I will try to live up to your very generous remarks. Look, I am actually here for a variety of reasons. One of which is this partnership, which I am very excited about, but I will tell you I have got a family connection here because my mother spent her career as a college professor and my sister is currently a college professor. So, simply on the basis of family comity at Thanksgiving meals, I want to do everything I can to help American colleges and universities.

And indeed, while I was in Singapore, I had a chance to meet with over 200 different U.S. colleges and universities that came through while I was there. About 30 U.S. colleges and universities have on-the-ground programs in Singapore. So, that gave me at least some context for some of the marketing exercise.

About 5,000 Singaporeans go to school here in the U.S. and another 5,000 people go to school in Singapore at one of these U.S. institutions. And it was very clear to me that there was no other activity, no other product or service, that would shape somebody's life. . . that could transform somebody's life like an experience at a U.S. educational institution.

And I have seen it dramatically when I was in banking in Asia, when I was in government in Asia, and it is a marvelous, marvelous aspect of American society. So, I just want to begin by thanking you, thanking your institutions for the way you touch people and open their minds to the broader world.

And I want to say it up front because in my time here today, I don't want to spend so much on that very noble element of our mission, but as Dina said, to focus on my current job, which is the commercial aspect of that, the business perspective if you will. None of us want to view our particular task in purely commercial terms or primarily commercial terms. But look, even the most noble cause has to pay the electric bills. So we are not pursuing these activities for the sake of money, but the numbers do have to line up at the end of the day.

So let me just start right in because one of my conclusions from my time on the ground working with U.S. educational institutions is that we have some of the greatest institutions in the world and indeed they are represented here in the room today. These institutions host some of the greatest minds in the world. But great institutions and great minds do not necessarily mean a great strategy or a great marketing plan and certainly not a great admissions office.

Now, I have got to tell you, there can be a lack of correlation or even an inverse correlation between an institution's stature and its mission plan, because some of the very best institutions can take a very self satisfied view- We are the best. We have been international for a hundred years. We get the best students.

And interestingly, some of the less well known institutions are the hungry ones. They are the strivers. They are the ones that have to prove themselves and try to get a toehold. So I don't believe I am going to shock anybody here by saying that there can be found, at times, inertia in admissions offices.

Some offices have plans. Some have international plans. Other offices just have activities. Some have a set of activities that typically were put in place in the 1950's and they don't really necessarily take into account changes in the market, changes in technology.

And I have seen a lot of admissions office that are inure to change because the numbers are reasonably good. My response is, look, given demographics in the U.S., given the explosion of the college age population of aspiration and the international pool, given that incredible shift in the market, you can pretty much do everything wrong and still have pretty good numbers.

So, please just don't tell me your number is up 20 percent this year or your applications from China are up 20 percent this year because you can do every single thing wrong in the China market and your number is going to go up 20 percent. So I take a very simple view of the situation.

Let me make three assertions we can get into. We have time for Q&A. First, I think it is self evident we wouldn't be here with the first assertion, the sector is globalizing. Your institution can readily compete in nontraditional markets just as other institutions can readily compete in your core market.

Second, a little less obvious, a little less contentious, there is a global war for talent. U.S. institutions remain the overwhelmingly preferred service provider. We are in a privileged position. But other countries have successfully carved out niches and they can effectively compete beyond their niche.

Third, in the short run, factors such as your brand and your market position, and your traditional set of activities will probably carry the day over the long run. Your success will be determined primarily by choices you make and actions you undertake.

And look, I haven't been able to participate over the last two days. I hope everybody in the State Department, everybody in the Commerce Department does all we can to help you. I hope that takes place.

But my view is over the long run. That is not what is going to determine your success or your lack of success because whether or not some eligible kid in Egypt or India or China knows about your school really has nothing to do with me. It has to do with you. And whether or not that kid decides to apply has nothing to do when I say me, I mean us. Has nothing to do with people on the government side. It really has to do with you. Why should that kid apply? And of course whether that kid gets in definitely depends on you. It has nothing to do with us. Nor should it.

Now you say whether that kid decides to go, well, that still is largely your call, not ours. Whether the kid can go. There you have got something. Whether the kid actually physically can go, yes. I would say a good 1 or 2 percent of that depends on us and a good 98 or 99 percent depends on you. So, yes, we ought to do what we can to solve all those problems in our sector and I would like the school to solve all they can do in their sector too.

So, in my view, that leads to a short run challenge and a long run challenge. And the short run challenge is a marketing exercise. How do you reach and touch and interact with people in remote markets and secondary markets, nontraditional markets where you don't have an infrastructure- where the markets are far away; where there is significant cost; where there are other languages? All of these challenges- how do you do it?

Well, some schools do it very effectively with a little money, a little resource and other schools just kind of fumble around. And I think schools really need to think this through from a baseline sector about what do you do.

Where do you find force multipliers? How do you use the Internet? What kind of foreign language materials do you make? What kind of web feeds do you have? How do you use your alumni? How do you empower people overseas? How do you use your celebrity faculty members- your rock stars to get out there and get some press in foreign markets? I mean, there are a lot of cards to play. There is an enormous amount of strength to these institutions, but how effectively they are played in the secondary markets varies substantially. That is the short run challenge.

The long run challenge is a little more complicated, which is to say what actually is the international role of your institution? What is your vision? What is your goal? Some companies some institutions have sort of a very simple view, MOTS- more of the same. What the rest of the world represents to them is essentially a larger population pool.

And by the way, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. I would say there is a lot more and a lot richer experience you can get than simply MOTS. It is not a bad place to start, but there are certainly additive dimensions.

That leads to some real fundamental questions about what is the point of your school. What is it supposed to do around the world? Is it just supposed to bring kids in from overseas and give them the same kind of treatment you give the domestic kids and send them back out or is there something else going on here?

And you can start with the 1950's model, the sort of school year abroad model, semester abroad, summer abroad. We send kids to France and Germany and they come here- okay. That is not bad.

You can move it up to a more complicated model where institutions have set up institutions overseas for their U.S. schools. So I think of the Johns Hopkins SAIS Bologna center where if you are in the SAIS program here, you go to Bologna for a year. Another model is that overseas institutions replicate U.S. programs. And in Singapore, I was aware of two excellent programs that U.S. institutions had.

Sunni Buffalo had an M.B.A. campus in Singapore, which is a precise replica of its M.B.A. program in Buffalo. So course for course, year for year, trimester by trimester, one for one, any student in Buffalo could go to Singapore for any semester. So you could figure out which semester they were going to go. It was a pretty easy call. And Chicago had a stand-alone program, an M.B.A. program, as part of their global M.B.A. program in Singapore as well. So that is an interesting model.

Another model is the joint degree programs. In Singapore, there were a number. UCLA had a business degree program. MIT had some technical programs. Cornell had its hotel school program just launched. Those require a bit of resources.

And finally, I think the most complicated model is the overseas school for the overseas student and I am thinking of what Georgetown School of Foreign Service does in Qatar. That model says we are going to set up a campus there, a school of foreign service there, primarily for people not from Georgetown. Primarily for people from the Mideast or Europe who can get to Qatar. Or Embry Riddle Aeronautical School set up training programs in Singapore- 100 percent for the Asian market. For no American kids at all. For the Asian market.

Well, that had to do with their vision, their view of themselves, their view of their role in the world and every person here is going to have a different answer to that question. But, I am saying that I think over the long run, there is a set of definitional questions that the schools have to come to terms with in regard to what the heck is our role in the world. How do we plug in? What does it mean to us? What are we trying to get out of there and what is important for us to establish for us to carry on the vision that we set for ourselves?

Well, I hope I provoked some provided some food for thought, provoked some discussion. We can get into some of these questions. I am excited about having a chance to work with you. I have worked with many of the people in the room in their institutions. I look forward to carrying that on. Thank you, Dina, for inviting me in.

MS. POWELL: Thank you so much Ambassador Lavin.