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Full Transcript of web chat on the theme of People-to-People Ties: The Heart of the U.S.-India Partnership on July 19 with Ambassador Nirupama Rao and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine, moderated by Ambassador Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs

People-to-People Ties: The Heart of the U.S.-India Partnership 
Thursday, July 19, 07:45 EDT 
Full Transcript








·        Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy, Tara Sonenshine 

·        Indian Ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao

·        Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Ambassador Robert Blake [Moderator]

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Good morning, and welcome.  I'm Robert Blake, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.  I have the honor to moderate today's discussion on people-to-people ties and educational cooperation between the United States and India.  We are very pleased to have as our speakers, two distinguished leaders: Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine, and India's Ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao.  Our two governments have made great progress in recent years to strengthen what President Obama has said will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.  But it is the citizens of our nations who propel this relationship forward, as relationships between nations are rooted in the dynamism of our innovators and entrepreneurs, our students, artists, and so many more.  The vast number and breadth of our exchanges that are taking place between educational institutions, businesses, tourists, and scientists are the life blood of our relations.  I look forward to today's discussion and hearing of the many ways by which people-to-people diplomacy drives our partnership forward.  This is an interactive chat.  We will do our best to answer as many of your questions as possible.  Let me ask each of our distinguished speakers to make brief opening remarks before we go to our questions.  Tara, can I ask you to begin? 

UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: With pleasure. Thank you so much, Assistant Secretary Blake.  And I am truly honored to be here also, with Ambassador Rao.  You are such a force and a robust voice in the U.S.-India relationship.  Welcome to all of you who are joining: students, representatives of the Indian diaspora community, alumni of our programs, and others coming in from different places.  I have just a few facts and prepared remarks to share, and then I look forward to taking your questions.  I do want to say at the outset that one of the highlights of my experiences so far as Under Secretary has been to participate in the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue, and I'd like to focus on that in just a moment.  But I do want to let all of you know that you are an important part of the community that we are building.  You are part of an enormous constituency, one of the pillars in the U.S.-India special relationship.  There are today more than 14,000 alumni of public diplomacy programs in India.  Over 104,000 students from India study in the United States each year and there are more than three million Indian-Americans living in the United States.  So together we can build an educational foundation for a knowledge-based economy.  You all know, and we know, that the economy of today and tomorrow will favor workers with 21st-century skills – people who are resourceful, connected, and entrepreneurial – and so we want to work with India on all the new models of education: online models accessible to everyone, quality education affordable to everyone, community colleges and different types of colleges that enable our young people to be outfitted and prepared for the new global economy.  Let me close with a few startling statistics.  More than 100 million Indians will be joining the workforce by 2020.  That is almost the entire population of Mexico.  It's imperative that we work together to train people to build viable futures for themselves, their families, and a rapidly evolving economy.  So we need partners: partners in the private sector, the academic sector, the NGO sector.  We need stakeholders like you.  So without further ado, I want to turn it back over to our moderator and to my fellow panelist and to the questions from all of you.

BLAKE: Ambassador Rao, would you like to make a brief statement? 

AMBASSADOR RAO: Yes, first of all, let me say that I'm so privileged to be present here this morning – Bob, Tara – and to be addressing this audience about the people-to-people ties between our two democracies.  I've often said that people are the lifeblood of this relationship.  They're at the heart of the partnership that we seek to build between our two countries.  President Obama very rightly said that this is a defining partnership for the 21st century, that it is an indispensible partnership.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I think, put it very, very rightly when she said that this is an affair of the heart between our two countries.  And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, when he was in Washington in November of 2009, spoke about a relationship between our two countries based on principles and on pragmatism.  And when you look at the vast canvas of the relationship that we seek to build between our two countries, you understand that there is so much substance and meaning to what we are doing, both our democracies, as we seek to help the people.  Our two constitutions begin with the words, "We, the people," and therefore it is so appropriate that we should be here this morning to speak about how people-to-people ties are building bridges between our two countries.  And when I think of the people of our two countries, I am particularly focused on the youth in our two democracies, and India's youth are a vast proportion of our population, our 1.2 billion population today.  And as we seek to build this partnership, we are particularly focused on how we are able to build better lives for the young people in both our countries.  As Tara just said, we have about 100 million young people who will join the job market in a few years from now.  There are millions of our young children in school today in India.  And how do we build their skills?  How do we enhance their capacities as they come into the knowledge economy of today, into the market economy of the globalized world today?  India is very connected with the rest of the world.  Connectivity is very important for the future that we seek to build in India.  Infrastructure is of vital and crucial and central importance because that is what is going to enable that connectivity.  That will enable the youth of our country to touch the future, to reach for the sky.  And therefore, India and the United States, as we build the pillars, as we found this relationship on a strong basis, these are really the areas that we need to focus on.  Education, therefore, is a true pillar of this partnership.  The Higher Education Summit that we had last October in Washington, followed by the Higher Education Dialogue that we conducted during the third Strategic Dialogue meeting in Washington in June of this year, have all sought to give primary focus to this part of our relationship.  So I'm therefore very, very happy to be here and to talk about the opportunities that we explore and the experience that we've had, indeed, over the last 60 years since we began to exchange students and young persons visiting both countries.  So we have a lot to talk about, and I'm greatly looking forward to this discussion.

BLAKE: Before we start with questions about our people-to-people relations, we thought we would take one question about an issue that is much on people’s minds and I’d like to ask Under Secretary Sonenshine to comment on the recent U.S. naval incident in Dubai.

SONENSHINE: Sure, I want to begin of course by saying that we deeply regret the tragic loss of life that occurred on July 16 involving the U.S. Navy ship the Rappahannock.  The incident is currently under investigation. It will be conducted in a thorough and independent manner.  We’ll keep of course our counterparts in the Government of India apprised of the results of our investigation.  I would only add that people-to-people ties and public diplomacy help to undergird a strong relationship between nations which enable them to go through the challenges, some day to day, some midterm, and some very long term.

BLAKE: Thank you.  Ambassador Rao?

RAO: Well, let me also comment on this very tragic incident that happened off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.  An innocent life was lost and we’ve had people injured also in this very tragic incident. Our two governments are in touch with each other following what happened and just yesterday Under Secretary Wendy Sherman came to see me also to express her deep regrets about what has happened. We have informed your government that it is necessary to ascertain the full facts in this matter.  We are also in touch with the government of the United Arab Emirates.  The families of those who have been affected and of the fisherman whose life was lost are naturally in a deeply distraught state and they are seeking answers to what happened.  So it is important that we complete the investigation expeditiously and we are able to really understand how the sequence of events led to this tragic conclusion.  So therefore we are concerned about this in India, we are deeply concerned about it and we are in touch with your government and we hope we will be able to come to a clearer understanding of what actually transpired.

BLAKE: Thank you.  Let's now go to a question from a Youth Council Member with the American Center in New Delhi.  "What are three common areas in which both countries are working to enhance people-to-people communication, and how will these initiatives affect rural India?"  Perhaps I could ask Ambassador Rao to take a crack at that.

RAO: Well, when you speak of people-to-people communication and connectivity, of course the first area that comes to mind is education, and education that is very connected with the modern technological advancements of today.  I'm speaking of digital connectivity; I'm speaking of online education.  In today's globalized world, this access to knowledge should be free and open and transparent for people all around the world.  This is really a world beyond borders that we are talking about; therefore education is certainly a very, very important area.  The other area would be youth exchanges.  I know that we have more than 100,000 young Indians who come to the United States to study in your higher education institutions, but likewise, we would like to see many more young Americans come to India to understand the pulsating nature of the change in our country.  And I know that the State Department has announced the Passport to India initiative a short while ago, and I hope that this will be the beginning of a much more visible outflow of young Americans to spend a short while – to spend a year, a year-and-a-half, maybe a little more – and go back having built a very strong friendship with our country, a friendship that can stand them in good stead for the future as this partnership between our two democracies  becomes a defining relationship for the 21st century.  So that's another area.  And the other area is the larger question of exchanges between our scientists, our innovators, our trade and business ties.  These also bring people together because when we share ideas, you know, there has to be a traffic of ideas, there has to be a flow of knowledge between the two countries.  So that's the third area I can think of.

BLAKE: Thank you.  Tara?

SONENSHINE: I would only add – of course, I agree with all of those – there are some wonderful health programs that enable U.S. to work jointly on disease, on global climate, on some of the things that affect everyone no matter where you live, rural or city.  The other thing that I think is potentially... a very rich cultural exchange.  You know, we dwell sometimes on sort of the big, tough, complex business, technology, and education issues and we forget that our cultures have a lot to share in history, music, art, film.  So there are so many levels of society where you can reach people in the creative ways that animate their own lives.

BLAKE: Thank you.  Picking up on both of your comments about education, we have a question about science education.  And specifically, whether India and the U.S. can start a student exchange program for the Indian Space Research Organization and NASA to encourage student exchanges from both countries.  I wonder, Tara, if you could answer that.

SONENSHINE: Yes, we are very eager to begin to look at expanding how not only students exchange on science, but also even just internships and faculty.  We have a good model right now with Brazil, which is doing what is called a Science Without Borders program.  And they are bringing students here who are actually interning in places like NASA.  so we're beginning to see – and particularly in all of these STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – and I would put a special plug for getting more women into some of these fields – that there is wide opportunity for lots of exchanges and lots of being in one another's science labs and universities to really experience that common search for scientific answers. 

RAO: I completely agree with what Tara just said.  And I'd like to say that an example has already been set by the fact that we have about 11,000 young scientists from both countries who are working together in so many areas of common interest and concern and relevance to the cause of economic development.  And therefore this idea, I think, is a wonderful one, where we get our space sectors involved in promoting that degree of closeness... closer, shall we say, interaction, between our two countries.  They say space is the final frontier.  I think we don't speak of... there is no finality to this, because I see this relationship going from strength to strength. 

BLAKE: Thank you.  Picking up on the education theme, you mentioned that education really does underpin really everything that we do between our two countries.  And I wonder if you could just talk a little bit more about what we're already doing to try to promote more educational cooperation, but also where we might take it in the future. 

RAO: Well, the Higher Education Summit between the two countries really set the stage for what we plan to do in the future.  I think we have to start in India with the enormous possibilities for the creation of better and more advanced educational facilities for our young people.  There is enormous, therefore, scope for India and the United States to collaborate in this field.  Some of the areas that were identified as a result of our higher education dialogue have been the whole sector of community colleges, because our challenge and our desire and our goal is to help our young people to enhance their capacities and to grow their skills for the job market.  Now India's economy is accelerating at a very, very impressive pace, and India, as you know, is one of the two fastest growing economies in the world today.  So how do we equip our young people as they seek job opportunities in this very quickly accelerating economy of the future?  And therefore manufacturing skills, for instance, will be very important, and also communication and IT areas also.  So, therefore, community colleges.  The other area is faculty development because we will have to create and establish many more universities and colleges all over the country to meet the growing demands of our educational sector and the need to help our youth, who form really the backbone of our democracy today.  So faculty development is another area.  And the third area is, of course, research and innovation, which underpins all that we seek to do for the future.

BLAKE: Thank you.  Tara?

SONENSHINE: Well, I would just add that out of the Higher Education Dialogue, I was fascinated to hear the experts from India talking about a future meta university in which we're really all availing ourselves of online technologies, and the notion of mentors and advisors online who are exposing areas of India to education long distance.  This is beginning to really take off as a way to reach into underdeveloped rural areas.  It will never, in my view, replace the value of being together in one place, of sitting in somebody's living room, or at their... in their classroom.  But there are ways now to scale up and leverage exponentially the numbers of people we can reach. 

BLAKE: Thank you.  With the Olympics starting next week, sports are on everyone's mind.  And we have a question from the audience about whether sports initiatives can help promote people-to-people ties.  Tara, would you like to answer that?

SONENSHINE: I am a huge proponent of sports diplomacy.  It literally and figuratively creates a level playing field.  Athletes go out, and yes, they do want to compete and win, but they're also there because they have shared skills.  And in one of the areas, I know, there has been an NBA exchange at some point with India.  But expanding on the number of coaches, students, physical education programs... in many ways, sports is a place where the spirit and values that we want to teach... yes, be highly competitive, but also to have a sense of working as teams.  And to me, those skills are very transferable to the diplomatic arena. 

RAO: I certainly agree with that.  I think our young people are obviously very focused also on the whole world of sport.  Cricket, as you know, fascinates our entire country, drives a great deal of the excitement in the public arena, especially where sports is concerned.  I think we need to build more competitive skills, particularly in field sport and how do we train star athletes for the future.  There is an enormous reserve of talent in India, and we need to create more opportunities for our young people to access better training and access to the best coaches and facilities.  And this is an area where I believe the United States with its established track record of creating the best athletes in the world can certainly share its experiences and its expertise with India. 

BLAKE: I'm glad you didn't suggest a competition between the United States and India in cricket.  That might have been... 

RAO: You already, I believe, have a cricket league somewhere in the Midwest of this country.  So it may happen, for all you know. 

BLAKE: We have a question for Ambassador Rao.  What facilities, programs, and assistance does the Indian embassy in the United States offer to Indian students abroad? 

RAO: Well, first of all, we are always accessible to the students who come from our country to study here in the United States.  This is a vast country.  We have hundreds of thousands of our young people coming here to avail of your higher education facilities.  The embassy and our consulates-- our consulate in New York, our consulate in Chicago, our consulate in San Francisco, our consulate in Houston, and now our new consulate in Atlanta – they all have outreach to our students.  We meet them regularly.  Wherever I've gone, I've traveled the length and breadth of this country in the ten months that I've been here, and I've always made it a point to reach out to our students.  When I address universities, especially the South Asia programs, I see a large number of our students there, and I'm very, very happy to meet with them, understand the issues that they face, and see how we can help them.  Whenever our students face problems, and if there are situations which are unfortunate, we have our officials go out to the spot, meet with the people concerned, talk to the faculty in the university to see how we can provide the best services to our students.  But I wanted to say... I want to emphasize that the embassy and the consulate, this is a core area of what we do-- reaching out to people, understanding what our people in this country need, where we can help them.  We are really there 24-7 to help. 

BLAKE: Tara, do you want to add anything on that?

SONENSHINE: I would only add a couple of website addresses for folks who need more information.  Firstly, there is the US-India Education Foundation.  And that one is www.usief.org.in.  Also our Consular Affairs has a specific educational advising function.  And that one is www.travel.state.gov at the Department of State's Consular Affairs Web site.  So there are many opportunities to talk to educational advisors, find out what the best program is, and make sure that your visit is a positive educational and cultural exchange opportunity. 

RAO: If I may just add, we also are working on setting up a Higher Education Portal, which will specifically focus on what we are doing, India and the U.S., in education, and be able to provide answers to the questions that our students wish to raise when they seek to be admitted to a U.S. university or to understand where they can find what they need in terms of what they wish to study.  So that will also, I believe, greatly help increase transparency and knowledge in this sector. 

BLAKE: That's a terrific initiative.  Thank you.  Now we have a question for Under Secretary Sonenshine, which is, how long will it take to have a “new global economy” with a “new common education?”

SONENSHINE: Well, firstly, if you, the wonderful questioner, can figure that one out, I think, with your crystal ball, you're going to be ahead of everyone.  One of the ways that you create a truly global open education system is a word that Ambassador Rao just used, and that's transparency.  And in the age we're going into, we need to work together.  And, in fact, I was pleased to read about this important step that U.S. and India have taken on the open government platform, which is really software that promotes transparency and allows countries to share data.  In the research area, shared data is also going to promote the linkages between education and the economy.  I think it's hard to put timelines on these sorts of things.  Innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurism tend to not respond to a daily clock in the same way, nor do want it to.  We want to create the opportunities and use our convening power to bring the great minds into the space and have them be able to flourish.

BLAKE: Ambassador Rao?

RAO: You know, Mahatma Gandhi would always speak of the inspiration that he received, among others, from Henry David Thoreau.  And I always think of the waters of Walden Pond and the waters of our river, the Ganges, mingling with each other.  And I think that is really what we seek to build today – that intermingling of knowledge in an open, transparent, and democratic way. 

BLAKE: It's a wonderful metaphor.  We have another question for Ambassador Rao.  Does the Government of India have any plans to open institutions like the Confucius Institutes to promote Indian languages, culture, and to facilitate cultural exchanges?

RAO: This is, of course, a question that relates to larger cultural diplomacy and the policy that the government if India would have in this sector.  I wanted to say that, you know, we have the three million strong Indian American diaspora in this country, and they are great ambassadors for India.  And they strive everywhere to propagate the culture, the identity of India.  So, I find in the 17 years since I was here last – and I'm coming back after an interval – that there is much greater awareness of what India stands for today in this country.  The Indian Council for Cultural Relations in New Delhi has and operates a large number of cultural centers abroad in various parts of the world.  My dream, really, is to see a cultural center for India here in Washington, D.C.  And this is a dream that we have been aspiring to see fulfilled for some time now.  I think we are nearer that goal.  But I want to say that we don't need to, you know, emulate the Confucius Institutes in this regard.  We already have a very thriving ecosystem in which there is great affinity for India in countries like the United States, and democracies everywhere.  And that is truly our strength, and that is the wind beneath our wings, literally. 

BLAKE: Well, as somebody who went to many, many music and dance performances in Delhi when I lived there, I'd love to see an Indian cultural center here as well.  Tara, do you want to comment on that? 

SONENSHINE: Well, as most of you know, American centers and spaces... there are about 812 American spaces around the world.  We like the format of having each country decide what is appropriate for its own American space, as opposed to a kind of one size fits all model.  What many of our centers do, of course, is to teach English.  And regardless of what language you learn, foreign language is a window onto the world.  And so whatever centers one creates should always be the opportunity to learn a foreign language.  We also like to reach the high school kids.  And we do that with an access program that teaches English, particularly in underprivileged parts of different parts of the world.  So I wouldn't be looking for a template that will work in every country or an institute format.  I think you have to adapt to the local traditions and customs of wherever you're setting up, and create something for the demographic and for the needs of that particular country. 

BLAKE: We've talked a lot about people-to-people ties, and we have a question from the audience for Under Secretary Sonenshine about how the United States and India are planning to invest to enhance further people-to-people connections.

SONENSHINE: Well, one is doing exactly what we're doing today – people-to-people sitting in a wonderful studio here and taking questions from around the world.  And whether you do it on Facebook or on chats or in a newspaper interview, going back and forth is really important.  Travel... I think one way we expand is we visit one another's countries, and we have our young people visit one another's country.  Travel and tourism is a very important way that you also experience somebody's country.  And so we are going to be big proponents of travel-- travel here, Passport to India, travel to India, and really showing off the things we have to offer in our cultures, in our museums, in our monuments, in our parks.  That is a way that you enrich people's lives. 

BLAKE: And in fact, more and more Indian tourists are coming to the United States.

RAO: Absolutely.  There's an enormous curiosity about this country.  And popular perceptions about the United States and India are extremely positive.  And the fact that so many middle class Indians have family here in the United States, you know, some member of their family is here, an Indian American, and that also helps build bridges of understanding.  But certainly travel and tourism, they're excellent bridge builders.  You know, one visit... being here is worth seeing a thousand pictures, as it were, and getting to understand.  And, likewise for Americans visiting India. 

BLAKE: We have now a question for both of you, which is, what do you think will lead to closer collaboration between India and the United States – educational exchanges between faculty and researchers, or focusing on opening up educational institutions in the two countries for international students?  Let me start with Ambassador Rao.

RAO: I think both these areas require adequate and very clear focus, not only promoting exchanges between researchers and scientists and experts and faculties, but also improving access to educational institutions.  I know that, you know, as far as American students coming to India are concerned, we need to see many more of them come, because India... the study of India... let's put it that way.  The study of contemporary India, it's very important that here in the United States we see a deepened understanding in that regard.  Traditionally, many U.S. universities have studied Indian philosophy, India's religions.  You have a number of divinity schools that focus on the study of India in that respect – the study of Sanskrit, our classical culture, all that has been happening over the years, in fact perhaps even more than a century.  But today we need more focus, as you do for China and East Asia, on the study of contemporary India-- the political economy of India, the anthropology of India, and the enormous developmental changes that are taking place in our country. 

BLAKE: And I think in fact there have been a large number of new South Asia study programs, really focused mostly on India.  Tara, do you want to... 

RAO: I'd like to see many more such programs being established. 

BLAKE: Tara, did you also want to comment? 

SONENSHINE: Well, the Fulbright-Nehru Program has about tripled in three years in the number of scholars.  I think there's over 300.  So these programs are going to scale up because the demand is there.  I think we don't begin by necessarily choosing top down what we say is required.  We respond to what is needed from the ground.  And clearly there is a hunger for this kind of education, whether its student based or faculty based.  And so I think you've got to be prepared to meet the demand. 

BLAKE: Mm-hmm.  We have another question here, which is, as we all know, India-U.S. relations have become increasingly broad based, covering cooperation in areas such as trade and economics, defense and security, education, science and technology, civil nuclear energy, space technology, clean energy, environment, and health.  What steps are being taken by the U.S. and Indian governments to strengthen the friendship between the two countries, and how will both countries involve nongovernmental organizations to strengthen this friendship?  Tara, do you want to start? 

SONENSHINE: Well, I know the Secretary of State was very pleased when we saw in the business arena... I think it was a memorandum of understanding between one nongovernmental player, Westinghouse of the corporate sector, and India.  And those kinds of relationships, I've seen them happen even with a state of the United States.  The State of Maryland went off and negotiated its own arrangement that helped on the employment side.  So I think we're moving beyond just government-to-government, and opening up the way for civil society organizations to talk to each other, corporations, state legislatures to talk to each other.  So that means we're acknowledging that that there are many players in the international arena.  And that opens the way for so much more in the friendship and bridge building sector.

RAO: And I certainly believe that this is an era of public-private partnerships.  And everywhere we go as we seek to build this relationship, I cannot but emphasize the importance of that kind of partnership.  And today when you look at the landscape of this relationship, you understand the nature of the institutions that are participating.  This is not just about two governments.  This is about institutions in both countries-- the universities, the nongovernmental organizations, and the people-to-people contact.  I was in Ohio the other day, and I visited a facility that was run in Clermont County, just outside Cincinnati, by the Tata Consulting Services.  And they run an IT facility there, and they employ largely Americans from the area.  So they've provided job opportunities.  But what was even more relevant, I felt, was the fact that they have reached out to the communities in the area, particularly to the high schools, and they have brought in young students, young boys and girls, into the facility to tell them about the value and the importance of IT education.  And it's called the GO IT program.  And as a result of this, apparently the numbers of young students in that vicinity, in that neighborhood, who are applying to go to college to study in science and technology related areas and in IT and communications, has gone up significantly.  So I cite that as just one small example of what trade and business companies and organizations can do with the community as part of their corporate social responsibilities to build friendship between our two countries. 

BLAKE: Thank you.  One very important part of India's growing global influence has been India's amazing soft power.  And we have a question here from the audience about how has Bollywood influenced Hollywood, and whether you have programs or opportunities for cultural exchanges.  Ambassador Rao, do you want to... 

RAO: Well, I think Bollywood and Hollywood are, you know, in many ways so synonymous.  They speak about, you know, the success of both these industries.  Speaks about the enormous appetite in both countries for good entertainment, and the fact that our people are fun loving, and they embrace culture, and they love the thrill and excitement of show business.  So I think there is a great deal of similarity between the two countries.  Bollywood has influenced Hollywood, and Hollywood has influenced Bollywood.  I think it's a two-way street in that regard.  And the film industry in India, as you know, is the largest one in the world.  We produce many... even more films than what Hollywood does.  And increasingly the Bollywood industry and the films coming out of Bollywood are seen all around the world.  I can go to a theater here in Washington and see the latest release from Bollywood.  And the audiences that come to these films are mixed.  They're not just Indian Americans, but you have Americans, and our American friends love the music, they love the beat, the rhythm, and I think Bollywood music today is very contemporary and very evolved.  And some of our composers are among the best in the world.  So we can influence each other, I believe, in this regard.  And we are constantly doing so. 

BLAKE: And more and more Bollywood films are being filmed in the United States as well now. 

RAO: Absolutely, absolutely. 

BLAKE: Tara? 

SONENSHINE: Well, film festivals are filled, of course, with Indian films and U.S. films and others.  And there is a growing industry that can actually contribute to the economy.  So it's not only about entertaining people and culture.  But I'll say one last thing about film.  When you see a film, you are taking a trip.  If you see, as I did recently, the Marigold Hotel film, you almost think you have taken a journey, just through the act of watching the colorful place where the film has taken place.  So I think in a way it does transport us, and it certainly creates lasting binds. 

BLAKE: Thank you.  We have another question about students.  And the question is, is the United States looking for students from India, or looking for a partnership so that the United States can open up partnership programs in India as well, and which fields will be the main focus in the near future? 

SONENSHINE: Well, this was mentioned by the Ambassador.  Passport to India is a way to encourage more American students to come and study in India.  And as we said earlier, there are many students from India coming here.  We like two way streets in that sense.  We like the notion of having both sides experience one another.  And the fields of the future, as we talked about this STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math.  But there will always, I hope, be a place for the history, literature and liberal arts.  Some of the focus will move towards vocational training.  The community colleges really are thinking of skill-based, two-year programs that actually funnel students’ right into industry and help meet some of the employment needs.  So it's a range, it's a full buffet, and I think we're hoping to be able to avail both societies of the range of sectors and studies. 

RAO: I'd agree with that.  I think we have to focus on engineering, on science, and on the STEM sectors.  But also in the fields of inquiry and research that will help us mold the citizens of the future.  And that's where the role of humanities education is also extremely important.  And what your universities have to offer in this field is also very... is excellent, and I think would attract many, many young and bright minds from India.  So I think it has to be a mix of both.  But of course science and technology really fuel the economies of the future.  And for countries like India, and I believe for the United States, we have to give particular emphasis to that... those areas. 

BLAKE: We have a question for Under Secretary Sonenshine.  Does the United States Embassy in India hold seminars in New Delhi for students interested in pursuing higher education to help guide them? 

SONENSHINE: I'm aware that a lot happens online between the education advisors at consulates and those who call in.  Occasionally I've seen in some embassies – I don't know if we're doing it in India – where there's actually a Q&A that can go back and forth.  One thought I've had for the reverse, which is getting more of our students to India, would be to look at the model of the college fairs that are very popular here.  And as the mom of a high school student, I watched as these colleges came around and showed their wares – here’s where you could go, here's what we have to offer.  And it might be a model in both places, where you can come and look through the brochures of where you would go in India, and look at some of the educational institutions here.  But I know the advising goes on certainly online, and that there's lots of back and forth over which kinds of programs, etc. 

RAO: I think the important thing is to provide access and to enable people who ask these questions, particularly our young students, to have the right answers.  And I think online connectivity and constant networking in the educational sector between the two countries is of vital, vital importance. 

BLAKE: Well, unfortunately we are coming to the end of our time.  So I'd like to ask each of our panelists if they would like to make any closing remarks, starting with Under Secretary Sonenshine. 

SONENSHINE: Well, I go back full circle to where I began.  One of the most interesting, exciting, and inspiring first projects for me was the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue, and seeing the broader strategic dialogue in relationship as it unfolds.  I will tell you just on a human note, the events surrounding the official business, just the warmth of meeting with people afterwards and seeing... when you see friendship, you know it.  And so when you see a relationship evolving that is warm and leading U.S. somewhere, it is very exciting.  So I am just thrilled to be here and to be part of this growing relationship. 

RAO: Thank you so much.  I think also that the impressions that we make on young minds are so important.  I recall my own days as a student in Aurangabad in Maharashtra, and having this professor who taught us American literature and who had just come back after a Fulbright in Bloomington, Indiana.  And that was the first time I'd, you know, been aware of the Fulbright program, and places like Bloomington.  And, you know, the impression that was made on me as a young girl of 20 at that time, just to see, understand, and feel that there was this wide world waiting outside which we could access through education, I think made a very, very deep impression.  And there is a saying in India that the wealth that education gives you is the biggest wealth of all.  And I think... I'm sure our two countries understand that very well. 

BLAKE: I think that's a wonderful way to end.  On behalf of our audience, I'd like to thank our two distinguished panelists for joining us today.  And I'd also like to thank everybody who participated and sent so many wonderful questions.  We'll try to do this again sometime.  I think this has been a really wonderful new initiative.  So again, thank you so much, and goodbye from Washington.

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