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Welcome Remarks by AIT Deputy Director David Keegan at Breakfast Meeting for Delegation from New England Board of Higher Education

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome Evan Dobelle and Michael Lestz as well as the distinguished members of the New England Board of Higher Education Delegation currently traveling through Asia.    I'd also like to welcome former Minister of Education and Vice President of Academia Sinica, Dr. Ovid Tzeng and Director General Chang Chin Sheng from the Ministry of Education as well as the presidents of some of Taiwan's finest universities to this morning's breakfast meeting. 

We are delighted that this important delegation could include Taiwan in its tight schedule.  Your being here underscores the importance of education exchange to the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.  Education is among the most important things that parents around the world value and want for their children.  High quality higher education may be the single most important thing that America can directly offer to young people throughout the world, and the experience those students have in our country is essential to a greater understanding of U.S. society and values among the world's future leaders.

Taiwan's remarkable achievement in economic development over the past 30 years is a direct result of its investment in its most valuable resource--its people.  Today, almost 70% of Taiwan high school graduates go on to higher education.  Each year, more than 20,000 Taiwanese receive Masters or PhD degrees.  And currently there are over 25,000 Taiwan students studying in the U.S.  The U.S. continues to be the number one destination for Taiwan students seeking an overseas education.

In Washington DC, International Education Exchange has recently received renewed attention.  Last week, the Department of State hosted the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education designed to strengthen international education partnerships.  At the summit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remarked that the United States has never been more eager to welcome foreign students to its shores and to send more Americans to study abroad.  One of her highest priorities is to reinvigorate U.S. efforts to connect America to the people of the world through education.  She announced an expansion of our flagship Fulbright scholarship program.  And she is looking to cultivate new relationships for education exchange.  I am happy to see that you are here, this week, doing just that.  Our partners at the Ministry of Education and at Taiwan's universities all have a lot to offer.

I'd also like to add something new.  At last week's summit in Washington, President Bush also announced the Critical Languages Initiative.  This initiative will give earlier instruction in a number of critical languages- including Chinese- to American children (in grades Kindergarten to High School).  It also encourages students in university and graduate schools to take on the hard and critical languages.  A number of U.S. organizations at the state and federal levels are looking at Taiwan as an important feeder of Chinese teachers to American children.

Finally, an important logistical element of international education.  One that I'm sure you're all very interested in--Visas.  I'm happy to report to you that student visas are not an issue here in Taiwan.  Almost 99% of everyone who applies for a U.S. student visa in Taiwan receives one.  Moreover, our consular officers are actively involved in attending the many education trade fairs here in Taiwan.  They are out explaining to prospective students how they can best apply for a student visa.  It's working.  Our student visa numbers are increasing and our wait time is minimal.

In closing, here at AIT we are very supportive of international education exchange.  And we are all working very hard to continue achieving the many benefits we have seen over the years.  Taiwan students widen the global perspective of Americans.  They also contribute to important scientific research at U.S. universities.  Every Taiwan student that goes to America gets to see, first hand, the real compassion of the American people.  They get to see, first hand, the multicultural society in which we live.  And they begin to understand the true nature of the American people.  When these students return to their homes in Taiwan, they have new friends and many memories of America that they will never forget. 

Again, I welcome you all to Taiwan and look forward to a fruitful discussion on ushering in renewed academic cooperation and exchange between the U.S. and Taiwan.