September 27, 2012, could be the day that forever changed the lives of a group of teenagers from the low-income township of Chitungwiza (population one million) outside of Harare. I hope that date does prove fateful. I'll know it was auspicious if I see Zimbabwean names on the list of the 2017 Berkeley graduating class. If the names are there, I can say I saw the students get their first taste of northern California in a cramped, hot classroom off a dusty road near some of Zimbabwe's stunning balancing rocks and minibus taxi ranks.
At 9:00 a.m. on the 27th, I stood before 250 of the best students from five Chitungwiza public high schools. Next to me was Lin Larson, Senior International Specialist in the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) Undergraduate Admissions Office. It was Lin's first visit to Africa, and Zimbabwe was the last stop on her four-country tour. It was also the place where she got to make the official big announcement: UC Berkeley is one of six American universities to receive part of the Mastercard Foundation's new $500 million scholarship fund for students from sub-Saharan Africa. With the right mix of good grades, leadership potential, and commitment to "give back," several of the shy-eyed students with ready smiles in front of us could be freshmen "Golden Bears" in 2013.
Dubbed the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, the new program was announced on September 26 at the United Nations Special Session to launch Education First, an initiative led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown. Foundation CEO Reeta Roy underscored that, "An education does more than liberate people from poverty, it is the foundation of social and economic progress." The scholarships will target talented yet economically disadvantaged students and, as Roy said, "contribute to the emergence of a more equitable, dynamic, and prosperous Africa."
As the main source of information about American higher education in Zimbabwe, my office's EducationUSA center will play a central role in helping Zimbabwean students learn about these scholarships. The cooperation between UC Berkeley (and the other participating universities -- Duke, Stanford, Wellesley, Arizona State, and Michigan State), the Mastercard Foundation, and our embassy is much more than an international version of student aid -- it is a coalition to transform lives and, hopefully, countries.
Higher education is one of the United States' leading service exports. Since 2000-01, the number of international students on U.S. campuses has grown 32 percent, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE) Open Doors 2011 annual report on international students in the United States. International students now make up 3.5 percent of the total enrollment at U.S. institutions of higher education and add over $20 billion to the U.S. economy.
The EducationUSA global network consists of nearly 400 advising centers in 170 countries and is supported by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to provide accurate, current, and comprehensive information about U.S. higher education. EducationUSA advising centers offer reference materials and high-quality student advising on the American application, admissions, and financial aid system. Professionally trained EducationUSA advisers assist millions of prospective students annually.
Education is more than a process to advance human knowledge. It is central to national and individual economic development and prosperity; and it is the foundation upon which culture and values are communicated. Senator J. William Fulbright, who introduced legislation authorizing the U.S. government's flagship Fulbright Exchange program, wrote in his 1989 collection of essays on foreign policy: "The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy -- the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program...is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope."
I am hopeful that we found future Golden Bears here in Zimbabwe.