Your excellencies Minister el-Ahwany, Minister Abdul Khalek; Master of Ceremonies Mr. El-Kerdany; Astronaut Dr. Mary Ellen Weber; distinguished members of the Egyptian government, the Egyptian and American university communities, and the media; friends, colleagues, partners – and above all, students: Thank you for participating in this special occasion and thank you for your warm welcome.
Today, we celebrate the official launch of the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative, otherwise known as HEI, a new and exciting chapter in the history of our two nations. HEI is a multi-year, 250 million dollar initiative, through which the United States will fund scholarships for nearly 2,000 talented Egyptian women and men to attend Egyptian and American universities.
These scholarships are being awarded based on merit to students across Egyptian society, with particular effort to recruit economically disadvantaged students. The scholarships will support study in fields that Egypt itself has identified as critical to its long-term economic success and prosperity—fields that include the applied sciences, engineering, and business administration.
At the same time, HEI will benefit Egyptian public universities and the tens of thousands of Egyptian students who attend those universities. It will do so through a multi-million dollar investment in up to 20 partnerships between Egyptian and American universities and businesses to increase joint research, shared degree programs, and the exchange of knowledge.
You may wonder why the United States is investing so much in new scholarships to Egyptian students. One reason is that Egypt’s future as a secure, prosperous, and democratic country is critical to the stability of this vitally important region. And in today’s world, Egypt’s future, like that of every other country, depends on the education of its youth. So the future of Egypt’s youth and the choices Egypt makes in preparing them for jobs and responsibility and global competition are important to the American people and to all those who wish Egypt well. We do not believe the American model has all the answers, but we know from experience and the steady stream of students who come to us from all corners of the globe, that we have much to offer in higher education.
As author, commentator, and foreign policy expert Fareed Zakaria has written, and I quote, “higher education is the United States’ best industry. In no other field is the United States’ advantage so overwhelming. . . The United States, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has as many as 8 of the world’s top ten universities and up to 68 percent of the top 50.”
Egypt has long played a crucial, preeminent role in this region and beyond. Literally and figuratively, Egypt stands at the center of the Arab world and the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe. It safeguards the internationally vital Suez Canal. Its population constitutes a quarter of the Arab world. Its teachers, judges, engineers, and others contribute to economies and societies throughout the region. Al-Azhar University is Sunni Islam’s oldest and most prestigious seat of jurisprudence and learning. Egyptian films, television programs, and literature have shaped the Arab world’s views and attitudes for decades. Egypt hosts the Arab League and all but one of the Arab League’s secretaries general have been Egyptian. And Egypt has and continues to be a force for regional peace and stability.
To illustrate the contribution of education to Egypt’s future, I ask you to consider the three, young, vibrant Egyptian faces you saw on the screen as you entered this auditorium a few minutes ago.
Doaa, an entrepreneurial bookseller from Qena, wants to return to Upper Egypt after getting her MBA to launch an association promoting awareness of social issues and the arts.
George, from Beni Suef, wants to build an engineering startup company after graduation. He is already working with a group to install solar panels to generate electricity in villages in the Fayoum Governorate.
And Sara travelled to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in 2010, returned to Egypt with a Master’s degree, and now excels as an economist at the World Bank.
Today we are proud to welcome the initial group of HEI scholars to this event. These young people are innovative, work hard, and have a dream and vision to make their country, their region, and the world an even better place. Those whose HEI scholarships take them to the United States will add to the diversity of our college campuses, and the quality of the international academic discourse and scientific education we have in our country.
Whether they study in Egypt or in the United States, HEI students will provide the energy, innovation, and entrepreneurship to shape Egypt’s future. They will help ensure that Egypt plays an active role in the next wave of innovations in science, technology, and industry. Their success will be Egypt’s success.
So why do the American people provide scholarships to Egyptian youth? Why do we invest in the future generation of another country? Because we recognize the fundamental importance of Egypt and believe in the potential and dreams of its people. As Secretary of State Kerry emphasized at the recent Economic Development Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, the United States stands by Egypt. Through HEI and many other programs, the United States is pleased and proud to deliver on that commitment.
Thank you very much.