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Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, USA

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs tells The PIE about government strategies to increase study abroad, continued efforts to attract foreign students and how she’d study abroad again if given a second chance.

The PIE: What is your position in the US government and how does it relate to international education?

Our goal is to help students and their families find the US institution that best matches their interests and needs

ER: As the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the US Department of State, I oversee a wide range of academic, cultural, private sector, professional, and youth exchange programmes with more than 160 countries. The goal of our exchange programmes is to enhance networks between the people of the United States and the people of other countries and to help emerging leaders develop the skills needed to succeed in the global economy.

The PIE: What countries do you think the US could learn from when developing international education strategies? 

ER: Through international exchange programmes, learning is always a two-way process between those crossing borders and those hosting. Wherever we, as Americans, go around the world, we have something to contribute and something to learn. That holds true equally for the many international visitors we host in the US every year, on our campuses and in our communities. The US hosts more international students than any other country.

“Students who obtain global experiences develop knowledge and skills that position them as leaders in all sectors and professions”

The PIE: How can you measure if a student has truly had a global experience, at home or overseas? 

ER: Students who obtain global experiences develop knowledge and skills that position them as leaders in all sectors and professions. They learn to think with a broadened perspective, better understand cultural diversity, become more proficient in foreign languages, and gain skills that foster success in their educational pursuits, professional careers, and daily life.

The PIE: In April, you announced the establishment of a study abroad branch at the State Department. What’s happened since the announcement and what are you hoping to achieve with the office?

ER: The US Study Abroad office is up and running, working to increase and diversify US participation in study abroad. Next week, we are launching studyabroad.state.gov, our official US study abroad website. Our new website will help students, parents and educators navigate study abroad resources available from the US government and from foreign governments supporting participation in study abroad.

The PIE: What else can we expect to see from the US government in terms of supporting study abroad? 

ER: In addition to our new study abroad website, we will be announcing a new round of capacity building grants for US institutions, and we will host capacity building workshops around the world for institutions who want to attract more American students.  We are also in the process of developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for administrators and faculty who want to build on or enhance the institutions’ ability to deliver study abroad programmes.

The PIE: The US is often described as a sleeping giant in international recruitment. Do you think international enrolments in US HE will ever grow beyond around 4% of the total population? Should that be a priority? 

ER: This has always been a priority for us, and it is why we are constantly working to increase the number of students coming here for study and to ensure that more students are aware of these opportunities. Given the strength, scope and diversity of US higher education, there is significant capacity to host more international students, providing them with high quality educational and cultural opportunities, while internationalising our campuses and communities.

“We are launching our official US study abroad website to help students, parents and educators navigate study abroad resources”

We are committed to increasing the number of international students on US campuses, preparing both international students and Americans for the global economy and a future working together to address global challenges.

The PIE: In 2013, the State Department partnered with Coursera to create learning hubs as a way to test drive US universities. Can we expect to see more education outreach from the EducationUSA offices around the world? 

ER: The State Department’s EducationUSA network of international student advising centres provides guidance and support to prospective students abroad who want to study in the United States. It is constantly adapting to serve students around the world, both virtually and in-person. Our virtual activities, including online advising, webinars, MOOC camps, and virtual recruitment fairs, are reaching millions of prospective international students each year.

EducationUSA also reaches out to the US higher education community and engages with foreign government officials who wish to better understand the diversity and value of US higher education.

The PIE: What is your opinion on the use of commissioned education agents to recruit students?

ER: Through our EducationUSA network, we provide accurate, current, and comprehensive information on opportunities at all accredited higher education institutions in the United States – and much of this guidance is available to students free of charge. Our goal is to help students and their families find the US institution that best matches their interests and needs. We recognise that US colleges and universities may engage a wide range of service providers as they seek to reach international student populations. We will continue to equitably represent all of US higher education.

The PIE: How important do you think global rankings are?

ER: Global rankings are among the many sources of information that prospective international students can utilise when considering options for study in the United States. However, rankings alone can’t give students the full picture of options in terms of institutional type, geographic region, curricula and other areas available within the US higher education system. We believe that the wide array of options available to students is among the many strengths of US higher education.

“International education is an important element of US foreign relations”

The PIE: What influence does international education have on the US’s foreign policy? 

ER: International education is an important element of US foreign relations. The people-to-people ties and transfer of knowledge achieved through international education builds and sustains a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world that benefits the entire global community. International education and exchange is vital to our diplomacy efforts and establishes lasting ties between individuals today that translate into stronger relations between nations tomorrow.

The PIE: If you could be a college student again, where would you study abroad and why?

ER: It’s too hard to pick just one location! As a college student, I studied abroad in London, and I reflect on that transformational experience every day as I serve in my role at ECA. If I could go back and do it all again, I would find more opportunities to study, volunteer, and work abroad in as many diverse locations as possible.

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