The academic “bridges” between Greece and the USA have now gained unshakable foundations, with our country being the 8th leading study abroad destination for American students and 4,484 young people from the United States already studying in Greece, as well as 2,539 Greeks and Greek women in the USA. For the above, but also for what concerns educational current affairs, the US ambassador to Greece George Tsounis answers the questions of the “Step”.
One year after the start of the cooperation between Greek and American universities where are we?
“The ground-breaking “Faros” Summit marked the first major bilateral effort to consolidate educational partnerships between the US and Greece. It was a huge success that attracted a historic delegation of representatives from American universities to Greece in order to expand and deepen our cooperation with all 24 public universities in Greece. The US is proud to be Greece’s leading partner in academic cooperation, with the Summit further strengthening this excellent partnership. Our embassy was happy to be an integral part of the team that made the Synod possible.
The “Faros” Synod laid a strong foundation on which we continue to build. We are grateful for the close, values-based partnership we have with the Greek government, and in particular the Ministry of Education, while our embassy works closely with the leadership of Greek public universities, helping to identify new opportunities for collaboration. Several exciting initiatives are underway.
The above showed that there is great interest in educational exchanges, both from the United States and from Greece. I was delighted to see that this year’s statistics from the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Open Doors report highlighted just that. More American students and universities than ever are turning to Greece, making these growing ties a two-way street! Our embassy is working closely with Greek agencies to ensure that these numbers continue to grow, to the benefit of our students, our universities, and ultimately the relationship between our nations.”
Are we closer to the idea of ”joint degrees” of Greek and American universities?
“Each university must determine its own needs in terms of international collaborations. Some universities may wish to obtain joint degrees, other universities may be more interested in short-term student exchange programs or joint research. Both the American and Greek systems allow this kind of flexibility to adjust the nature and structure of each academic collaboration.
If I had to point out one major advantage of the American education system, I would say that it is diversity. Our system has a wide range of institutions that give students choices about where, what and how they study based on their interests and needs. This diversity also enables academic institutions to find the ‘right fit’ and foster successful collaborations at an international level.
I would like to emphasize here that this year’s data from the Open Doors report shows us that thousands of American and Greek students are choosing to participate in short-term programs, so I see huge potential for creating more programs to meet this demand. Investing in these programs also means investing in infrastructure, housing and student services.”
In our country we have started discussing the establishment and operation of private universities. What would you contribute to this reflection?
“The United States is home to approximately 4,000 academic institutions of various kinds, including public and private universities and community colleges. This unique academic system ensures that students from diverse backgrounds can find the education that suits them. This structure is extremely attractive to international students as well, attracting hundreds of thousands of foreign students to the United States each year to study.
Our embassy has invested significantly in relations with Greek public universities. In addition to the Pharos Summit, we also regularly host American expert speakers who partner with Greek public universities to share specialized knowledge and help overcome barriers to internationalization. Of course, our embassy also has excellent relations with the US-affiliated schools here in Greece.”
Recently, students at American universities have made public statements in favor of the Palestinian side regarding the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. What caused this?
“In the United States we are particularly proud of the freedoms that govern academia, including freedom of speech and expression. We believe that peaceful assembly and free expression are a guarantee of our democracy. These freedoms are critical to the advancement of knowledge, the development of critical thinking and the promotion of a just and informed society, they support the integrity and independence of academic institutions, which are essential to the progress of individuals, communities and humanity .
At the same time, we urge everyone to respect everyone’s rights. As President Biden said, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hatred have no place in America. In a thriving democracy citizens can express themselves freely. The United States recognizes academic freedom not as a privilege, but as a basis and condition for student well-being. This is a value we share with Greece, which is why US-Greece educational partnerships are so essential.”
The educational opportunities that the USA offers to the Greek public?
“Fulbright remains the most important bilateral academic exchange program, with Greece hosting its oldest Commission in Europe and the second oldest in the world. Through this program, more than 6,000 Greek and American scholars have traveled to each other’s countries over the past eight decades.
Another way we foster long-term academic collaboration is through the Gilman Scholarship, a US State Department program that allows students with limited financial means to study abroad, providing them with skills critical to our national security and economic well-being .
Our embassy offers the Ambassadors Fund Summer Work Program (SWT) scholarship for university students in Greece to travel to the US and work in seasonal jobs.
For students, the US embassy supports the Future Leaders Exchange program and scholarships for students aged 15-17 to study for one academic year at an American high school and be hosted by an American family. There’s also TechGirls, which allows 15-17-year-old girls from around the world to participate in a summer program for STEM skills and women’s empowerment, and the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Scholarships. I invite all students, their parents and their teachers to visit the relevant websites and learn more about these unique life experiences.”