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PSTCC’s Edwards goes to Washington

Pellissippi State Technical Community College President Dr. Allen G. Edwards, along with about 120 other university presidents from across the country, met with President George W. Bush and other top officials to discuss the need for loosening restrictions on foreign students who want to study in the United States and the need for teaching more foreign languages in schools.

Edwards attended the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education in Washington, D.C. Jan. 5-6. Edwards said he thought PSTCC was selected because Edwards is president of the International Association of Colleges, and has attended conferences in South Africa, the Netherlands and Great Britain with that organization. He also is on the board of the American Association of Community Colleges and in that role has served on the Global Education Committee.

Also attending from Tennessee was Dr. Gordon Gee, Vanderbilt University president.

Increasing the number of languages taught in American public schools, launching a public relations campaign to advertise U.S. educational possibilities, easing re-entry into home countries for foreign students, and allowing foreign students to work while they attend American colleges and universities were among ideas discussed.

The summit was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Defense Department.

“It was a remarkable thirty hours,” Edwards said of his time in Washington.

“They called this summit because after nine-eleven, the U-S reacted pretty heavily and made it very difficult for people to enter the country,” Edwards said. One of the most remarkable things, he added, was that Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes and Margaret Spellings came back out to talk with educators about what they had heard from them and to clarify that feedback.

“From Pellissippi’s standpoint, we’re interested because if the world’s not flat, it sure is smaller than it was,” Edwards said. “The fifty-eight [countries represented here] last year indicate there’s a real interest.”

President Bush spoke to the assembly, which included Secretary of State Rice, Secretary of Education Spellings, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.

“President Bush is concerned about the lack of language training in this country,” Edwards said, adding that from a business and security standpoint, the president would like to see a variety of languages taught.

The state department’s National Security Language Initiative has three broad goals: to expand the number of Americans mastering critical need languages and start at a younger age; to increase the number of advanced-level speakers of foreign languages with an emphasis on critical needs languages; and to increase the number of foreign language teachers and the resources for them. The initiative states that the proposed $13.2 million program aims to produce 2,000 advanced speakers of Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Persian, Hindi and Central Asian languages by 2009.

“We also talked about what a cultural statement it makes when we learn [other nationalities’] language,” Edwards said.

Edwards said government officials were interested in what educators had to say about ways to entice foreign students back into the United.States. Edwards said government officials suggested increasing the number of foreign students in the country by one-half million. Edwards said he believes the United States can do more.

“I think it should be twice that,” he said. “Higher education can easily handle a million students.”

“We had students from seventy countries at one point,” Edwards said.

Pellissippi’s program dropped sharply when students were unable to get visas due to the government crackdown following the events of Sept. 11.

Other English-speaking countries such as Canada, Great Britain and Australia, advertised for students after the United States. clamped down on entry into the country. Edwards said Canada and other countries began processing visas in one day.

Professionals were affected too when international conferences started moving overseas also because other countries made it so much easier to get visas, Edwards said.

Bush addressed the issue of decreasing restrictions on visiting students while maintaining the country’s attempt to keep out potential terrorists, Edward said. Bush told summit participants that there are a lot more good, honest people who want to come to the United States to study than there are terrorists.

Edwards said Pellissippi is interested in increasing the number of foreign students on campus and that the school also wants to send more students abroad.

Pellissippi’s current student exchange program with France is in jeopardy, Edwards said, simply because U.S. entry policies make it too expensive for French students.

“America’s place in the world has changed,” he said, noting that some refer to the last century as “the American century.” He said there’s a good chance that the current century might be “the Chinese century.”


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