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Allan Goodman, IIE, USA

As president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, Allan Goodman has spearheaded efforts to build higher education collaboration with Cuba and Iran, championed education for students and scholars at risks and headed up IIE’s flagship initiative to double US students studying abroad. He shares his vision of an outward-looking America and education as a force for peace in a conflicted world.

The PIE: I think the election of Donald Trump came as a surprise to most of us in international education. How do you think it will affect the sector?

"If we are going to get to the moon it is going to happen rocket by rocket, campus by campus because everybody has a different mix of obstacles to overcome"

AG: What I can say at the moment is that throughout nearly a century of surveying campuses, IIE’s Open Doors Report has documented that US campuses have consistently welcomed international students from all walks of life and locations. Students choose US higher education as an investment in their future because of its high quality and diversity of opportunity, and we believe they will continue to do so.

The PIE: What would you like to see from President-elect Trump in terms of support for international education?

“It is not a natural thing for most Americans to get a passport”

AG: I think the State Department should give every college student a free passport. I think that if Abraham Lincoln gave us free public education of Land Grant colleges, on the 150th anniversary of him signing the Land Grant College Act, which will occur in the next president’s administration, it would be great to give every student in college at that point a passport.

I know there are many obstacles to the fees, regulated by Congress, but Congress also gave every American an opportunity to have an education. Now maybe they could give every American the opportunity to have a 21st century driving licence.

The PIE: Only a tiny proportion of young Americans have a passport, right?

AG: I would be surprised if as many as 5-10% of college students have passports. We know that less than 40% of Americans have a passport and half who do are over 60 or under the age of five.

It is not a natural thing for most Americans to get a passport, and that’s why I think that encouraging college presidents and faculty champions to say let’s make it easy – here is the booth to take the picture, here is the form to fill out, here is the post office person who comes and swears you in – that would be very powerful.

The PIE: How is IIE’s Generation Study Abroad mission to double the number of US students studying abroad going so far?

AG: At this year’s Generation Study Abroad Summit we celebrated 12 commitment partners meeting their goals to increase study abroad on their campuses. At many, the majority of students are first generation so they are also reaching people for whom the dream hadn’t been a reality until the school embraced it.

“Having a very big and ambitious target is the only way you achieve big and ambitious goals”

What we are learning is that if we are going to get to the moon it is going to happen rocket by rocket, it is going to be campus by campus because everybody has a different mix of obstacles to overcome: the mix of students, the financial constraints or opportunities, resistance or support from the faculty.

Moon shots are very difficult, but having a very big and ambitious target is the only way you achieve big and ambitious goals.

The PIE: Would you agree, then, that the role of international education is more important now than ever?

AG: Education is the only hope. We need to learn to live with each other, and education is the place where tolerance should be extolled. This is the only road to peace, because everything else seems to lead to conflict.

It is the best investment we have to counter extremism, and international education will benefit Americans but it will benefit a lot of other people who demonise the other, demonise the foreigner, have the impression of Americans that we are very different people than we are if you sit down with us.

The PIE: You’ve been a big advocate of helping refugees and displaced students to continue their education safely; are you encouraged by the number of initiatives happening right now in the US to do that?

AG: I am ever encouraged by schools who are saying they will take a Syrian student and find a way to cover their tuition. It’s not only Syrians, it is Somalis in camps in Kenya who have now spent their whole life there, so they have just graduated high school but they have no place to go.

The higher ed community gets that if we don’t do something about the lost generation, our world is going to be in a world of hurt and there will be a lot more conflict.

“If we don’t do something about the lost generation, our world is going to be in a world of hurt”

And the neat thing is we don’t have to invent the cure for this disease; we know education is the cure. We have faculty, we have courses, we know displaced students thrive when they get back into school, so we know how to solve this problem. It is just a question of scale.

The PIE: You’ve also been at the forefront of movements to build collaboration between the US and places like Iran. How do you see that developing in the next few years?

AG: I think you have to have a long term horizon for any of this. My predecessor took the first delegations to China and Vietnam when we were just beginning to explore resuming relations with those countries – sometimes it takes a year, sometimes it takes two decades.

Our job is, when doors begin to open, to ask: can we open them in the higher ed space? And sometimes we can do this before the diplomatic relations, sometimes immediately after they are declared, but it is how our societies and cultures, especially when they have been isolated for so long, can reconnect with each other.

The PIE: Do you think Cuba is one of those countries where higher education will help to build those deep links?

“We don’t have a course today called Compromise 101 but we ought to”

AG: I think it will. Education builds based on mutual respect. Many countries have histories longer than our own – Cuba does, for example. Many countries have things they are very proud of, like revolutions and ideologies.

We may not agree with them but if we can study each other respectfully and appreciate each other’s history and struggles, it is going to produce future generations where it is ok to have a difference of opinion, it is ok to have a different economy, it is ok to have a difference when it comes to foreign policy, but there are also some common things we can work on.

So with Cuba and us we have a lot of common interests, in global climate change, how we train the number of doctors we need to deploy to rural areas around the world, how we protect our oceans and sea life. And so with every country there is something we have in common that we ought to work with and education helps us discover that.

The PIE: How did you come to be involved in international education in the first place?

AG: It was completely accidental! I believed if I had a future it would be in state, local government. I won a scholarship to Harvard and made the mistake of buying all my books in the first semester – and nobody who is smart at Harvard buys their all their books, nobody reads them all – but the impact of that was I was broke.

I looked on the bulletin board and there was posted my dream job: the world’s leading expert on American local government needed a research assistant. I ran over to the office and the secretary said the job has just been filled but there is this other professor who needs a research assistant in international relations, comparative politics.

And I said, no, I am not interested in that field, but the secretary forced me into Samuel Huntington’s office. He said you have got the job, by the way, do you have a passport? You better get one because I am going to take you around the world as I write this book, Political Order in Changing Societies. So I am very grateful to Sam Huntington and even more grateful to the secretary.

The PIE: Was that your first job?

AG: No, I had many jobs as a waiter in college and as a gardener. The two things I knew I was not good at was waiting tables or growing things. The thing about being a waiter is that you get instant feedback and seeing as I was the only one who never got tips, that maybe people didn’t like all the muck ups on the orders that I brought them.

“I had known from my earlier academic days that I really missed teaching, so it was very natural to make my way back into academia”

The PIE: You worked in the CIA for a while – how did you get from there to here?

AG: Living and working in Washington, so many people in government are asked by universities to come and teach. I got introduced to Georgetown University and it was possible to teach a course in the evening and I had known from my earlier academic days that I really missed teaching, so it was very natural to make my way back into academia.

The PIE: How did your experience working within the government inform your work in advocacy and public policy?

AG: For an American, there are two things to learn. One is that government is a process, it is not a product, and by being in government you learn to respect the people who are in government and to see how policy is shaped, and understanding the process and compromises that have to be made.

We don’t have a course today called Compromise 101 but we ought to, we don’t have a course called Process but we ought to – because that is what government is all about.

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