A Global Education Policy
When historians look back on the past 10 years, they will surely remark on this anomaly: At a time when American power and our stake in the world were at an all-time high, Americans' interest in and knowledge of international affairs was at a low ebb.
Our increasing interdependence with our neighbors around the globe demands that we do better. Although the threat of nuclear annihilation has receded with the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the world remains a dangerous place. The emergence of the global economy calls into question the meaning of such time-honored concepts as "U.S. company" and "Made in America." Exports account for a greater percentage of our GNP than ever before.
Today, people, goods and information move across the globe at an unprecedented pace. The United States feels the impact of immigration more than it has for over a century. None of us can deny the increasing impact of worldwide actions affecting the environment. It is now as easy to communicate with virtually any spot on the globe as it was for the generation in which we grew up to call down the street. In this "global community," where international travel has become routine, communicable diseases have also been internationalized, giving Americans a stake in public health standards worldwide.
These are only a few of the reasons why the demand for globally literate citizens has never been greater. After World War II, the federal government recognized the importance of international education to prepare Americans for the Cold War. We set up the Fulbright exchange program, funded international research centers at our universities, promoted foreign language study and in other ways took responsibility for promoting the international education of Americans.
No proactive federal policy on international education exists today. Now, in the global age, we believe it is again time for the federal government to recognize and act on the national interest in international education. That is why we introduced a resolution in the Senate, which was passed unanimously earlier this month. It calls for a U.S. international education policy to enhance national security, U.S. foreign policy and global competitiveness.
Our resolution says that such a policy should strive to achieve the following:
• Ensure that a United States college graduate has knowledge of a second language and of a foreign area, as well as a broader understanding of the world;
• Invigorate citizen and professional international exchange programs and promote the international exchange of scholars;
• Promote greater diversity of locations, languages and subjects involved in teaching, research and study abroad to ensure that the United States maintains a broad international knowledge base;
• Significantly increase participation in study abroad by American students and support visas and employment policies that promote increased numbers of international students;
• Enhance the educational infrastructure through which the United States produces citizens with a high level of international expertise and builds a broad knowledge base that serves the United States.
This is not an agenda to constrain local control of education or place additional power in Washington. Curricular and program decisions should and will remain with the institutions and the states. We do not seek replication of the large, federally funded programs of the 1960s and earlier. What is necessary at the federal level is leadership. We ask President George W. Bush to articulate the national interest in international education, set goals for our nation and call us together-federal officials, governors, educators, exchange professionals, business leaders and foundations-to discuss these goals and commit ourselves to do our part to achieve them.
Last year, former President Bill Clinton issued an executive memorandum on international education. The memorandum instructed federal agencies to work together on a coherent approach to international education. One of the fruits of that memorandum was the nation's first-ever "international education week." For a week last fall, schools across the country engaged in special international education activities.
Bush should again proclaim an international education week this year and work to make it bigger and better. Much more remains to be done. Bush should broaden and implement an international education policy appropriate for the world in which we live and the world we share. He should make this agenda a high priority overseen by a high-level White House official.
Senators and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle recognize the importance of international education. This is one issue on which the president can achieve the bipartisan support that he seeks from Congress. We look forward to working with him.
Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.