Transcript of ITA Under-Secretary
Franklin Lavin's Speech to the
University President's Summit
At the U.S. Department of State
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
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
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
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
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
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.