Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission David Burger at the Ministry of Education

SAEG Workshop:

“Attracting U.S. Students to Greece: Opportunities and Challenges”
Ministry of Education, Athens

Monday, December 9, 2019, 9:45 a.m.

Καλημέρα σας.  I’d like to thank Deputy Minister Digalakis, Secretary General Dimitropoulos, and the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for hosting us today and for partnering with us on this workshop on opportunities and challenges of attracting U.S. students to Greece.


I have to admit that the Deputy Minister and the Secretary General stole a bit of my thunder.  They said a number of the things that I tend to say myself, so I will [keep things short today].


I also of course want to thank Fulbright for their assistance in preparing this workshop, and for all the work that they do on exchanges, including of course Fulbright—the premier international exchange program that we have, and the oldest in Europe.


I want to thank all of you here today for taking time out of your busy schedules to participate in this workshop, and for your interest in incorporating U.S. best practices and attracting more U.S. students to Greece.


We are very happy to have Professor Erich Deitrich with us here today to speak about the internationalization of higher education.


Dr. Dietrich is a Professor of Higher Education at New York University who specializes in global higher education, and I have no doubt that he will be a terrific resource for you.  I’m also personally proud that my father is an alumnus of NYU.  Our ambassador visited NYU’s impressive Summer in Athens program over the summer, and the university is truly a global leader in this field as the professor was discussing with me about how his staff meetings are sort of like the G14.  Professor, thank you again for accepting our invitation to come to Athens to share your perspective on this important topic.


When I think about the experiences that my children and their friends have had living and studying abroad, I see their personal growth, language acquisition, and, of course, the terrific photos they take which make everyone back home jealous.

But to execute a study abroad program well—to provide for the students’ safety and create the conditions for them to thrive—requires a lot of planning and attention to details like housing, food, health care, visas, airline tickets, and much more.  It is serious business. That’s why we’re delighted to have a worldwide expert like Professor Dietrich with us today.


At the Embassy, we put the security of American citizens first, so we care about how they are looked after when they are here in Greece.  And beyond that, we care because encouraging people-to-people exchange is in fact one of the pillars of our policy here.


Through our Strategic Dialogue with the Greek government, both rounds of which Secretary of State Pompeo kicked off, first in December 2018 and then again this past October here in Athens, our governments committed to strengthening the connections between Greece’s educational institutions and U.S. partners, as well as expanding our cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs in order to share U.S. educational best practices, expand English language learning opportunities, and enable more U.S. students to study in Greece.


Today’s workshop is an outcome of the Strategic Dialogue, just one example of many that have taken our relationship to new heights.


The recently released Open Doors survey, which is issued by the New York-based Institute of International Education—and again, the Deputy Minister stole my thunder—captures with data the high demand for educational exchanges that we’ve been experiencing these past few years in Greece.


But it is indeed noteworthy, as the Deputy Minister mentioned, that Greece now ranks 14th globally in preferences for U.S. students to study abroad, and we have seen a 20% increase in U.S. students studying in Greece.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that American young people are interested in spending more time in this beautiful country.  Now, the challenge is how to take advantage of this demand.


So, we hope that this workshop will kick off discussions among the universities here in Greece, the Ministry, and our Embassy about how to attract American students, and how to ensure their safety and success while they are here.


We’re happy that many of your faculty members have studied or done research in the United States, as the Deputy Minister mentioned.  U.S. professors and scholars regularly visit Greece, many of course though the Fulbright program.


These exchanges enable creative collaborations and research partnerships, deepening our enduring people-to-people ties.  We hope to give this opportunity to younger generations as well, to increase our cooperation and educational exchanges, building off the great momentum in our relationship.


On this note, I commend Minister Kerameus for her recent announcements about efforts to modernize the Greek education system.  And as the Deputy Minister noted, legislation is already before Parliament in this regard. And I’d like to highlight a few areas where we have been cooperating already, and where we believe there is scope to do even more.


One example of these efforts is the proposed plan to host a delegation of American universities in Greece in March 2020 to meet with the rectors of Greek universities like yourselves in order to create rubrics for joint or dual degrees, student and faculty exchanges, summer programs, or study abroad opportunities.  We commend the Ministry on supporting a more international, outward-facing approach to education, and we’ll do everything we can to support synergies between Greek and American universities.


Second, we’re pleased about the announcement that the Ministry is working with Junior Achievement Greece to incorporate entrepreneurship education into the high school curriculum.

This is the first time that these important innovation and business skills will be integrated into schools nationwide.  The Embassy has made continued, concerted efforts to help grow Greece’s entrepreneurship sector, as we believe engaging Greece’s creative, highly educated workforce will lead to sustainable economic growth and investment as you come out of the crisis.


We appreciate the progress we’ve made in our educational partnerships with Greece and look forward to building on our existing cooperation.  We thank the Greek government for resuming its contributions to our flagship Fulbright program, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary.


And as the Secretary General mentioned, the Future Leaders Exchange or FLEX program, which enables Greek high school students to travel to the United States for a year to live with host families while they attend American high schools, is now entering its second year.


And earlier this year, 39 diverse and talented future American leaders convened in Thessaloniki for the first-ever Gilman Scholars Regional Career Summit.


We are moving in the right direction, and I am confident that 2020 will see even more educational partnerships between U.S. and Greek institutions, more students and scholars traveling across the Atlantic, and even deeper ties between the research institutions that are building the future of our knowledge-based economies.  Thank you all for sharing our enthusiasm and for your commitment to this effort.


Ευχαριστώ πολύ.