Education Secretary Spellings Speaks at Waseda University

Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education
U.S. Higher Education Delegation to Asia
Waseda University, Tokyo

November 13, 2006

As prepared for delivery

Thank you Dina for that introduction. I'd also like to thank Dr. Nussbaum and President Shirai for having us here today and your leadership of this great university and for being such a great supporter of this trip. I'm honored to be with all of you and want to thank Waseda, the students and faculty, for such a warm welcome.

I have a deep affinity for Japan. It's a feeling of respect and admiration that's shared by President Bush and the American people. As President Bush has said, "The friendship between our two nations is based on common values - like democracy, free enterprise, and a deep and abiding respect for human rights."

The President looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Abe next week when they are in Hanoi for the APEC meetings. And Mrs. Bush, who will be joining the President, will meet with Mrs. Abe to discuss education and global literacy. A strong alliance between our nations is good for our citizens and for democracy in the world.

I've traveled here with a group of leading American University Presidents including Dr. Brody who spoke earlier. This is the first time my government has put together such a delegation. They come from different kinds of institutions from all around our country - large, small, private, public, community colleges and premier research institutions.

We want to invite you to study in America and we want to send more of our students here. America's institutions of higher education remain a prime destination for those seeking opportunity in the highly competitive global economy. Before I left for this trip, I met with a group of students from Japan studying in America. They told me that some of the things they enjoy about studying in my country include the diversity, excellent research opportunities, and the open, welcoming atmosphere. We're committed to making sure this same opportunity to study in America is available to you and students like you. We know international exchanges enrich a student's overall education experience. They also help promote mutual understanding and appreciation of our different cultures.

Meeting this challenge is a primary goal of Waseda. In preparation for your 125th anniversary celebration, this university re-focused its mission; committing to become a "global university." You have a great goal to send more than a thousand students abroad and to accept more than 3,000 students here. And we want to help you achieve that goal.

The world is changing, shrinking distances and barriers between people. Technology has connected us in ways unimaginable to past generations. It has transformed the way we do everything from managing a business to buying airplane tickets. Thanks to globalization, even my Starbucks coffee tastes exactly the same here in Tokyo as it does in Virginia!

Technological advances have improved the quality of life, revolutionized how we communicate, and opened new doors of opportunity. They have also redefined the skills students and workers need to capitalize on these opportunities.

Not so long ago, you could get a good job without higher education. But, in today's competitive economy, a college education is becoming essential.

Higher education has long been one of the strengths of America. Our decentralized system has empowered students with a wide range of options. It's a system that encourages innovation and adapts to meet many different needs.

As a result, millions of Americans have the chance to realize their potential and contribute to society. American universities are on the cutting edge of research and technological discovery. Our students have unparalleled access to world-class laboratories and resources. And in the fields of both academic and scientific research, foreign students contribute tremendously and greatly enrich our universities.

Foreign student enrollment continues to rise in the post-9/11 era. In the last year, the number of student and exchange visas issued reached an all-time high of more than 590,000. Student visas were up 15 percent. And the recently released Open Doors report shows that Japan remains one of the top four countries in sending students to study in America. And I'm proud that 99% of all student visas sought by qualified applicants are awarded in a matter of days.

Our Universities, like those here today, are working hard to promote the value of international education and foster new exchanges. In the past, study abroad was something that not many students could afford and it wasn't offered at many universities. But that's changing. In fact, several in this delegation have vibrant partnerships with higher education institutions throughout Japan and host hundreds of your peers on their campuses.

In the past 10 years, Americans studying overseas has increased by 10 percent. And the number of institutions offering study abroad programs and highlighting international education has increased dramatically.

We can learn a lot from each other to better prepare our students. Japan has strong math and science programs and America is known for our emphasis on critical thinking and creativity. Working together we can give all our students a better education. Companies today want graduates skilled in the fields of math, science, and foreign language - the new currencies of our global economy. And these days, companies are following talent - whether that talent is in Texas or Tokyo.

Since our universities are at the heart of recruiting and nurturing talent, they must adapt to make sure a college education equips students to be competitive with the new international workforce. A core strength of America's higher education system is its flexibility. Our colleges are able to innovate and adjust to meet the demands of a dynamic job market and changing global society.

Recently, I convened a group of higher education and business leaders to explore ways that we can strengthen higher education in America and make it more affordable, accessible, and accountable. Our government is committed to ensuring that our education system provides students with the resources and instruction they need to succeed. For us, the internationalization of education means sharing best practices, fostering innovation, and increasing transparency.

Because no matter what country we call home, all of us share the same commitment to students. Education opens the doors of opportunity and is the foundation for a better life and a bright future. To promote freedom, end hunger, and find the cure for cancer, as well as explore new frontiers in space as we have done in partnership with Japan ... we have a much greater chance of accomplishing these noble objectives together than on our own.

Through shared collaboration of ideas and invention, we can make our world and the world our children inherit one of great promise and opportunity.

And our success in this endeavor begins and ends in the classroom. Higher education is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity.

And I hope that as you pursue your education and American students pursue theirs, remember that two-way student exchanges greatly benefit our educational institutions, our people, and the future of our nations.

Thank you.