Ambassador Llorens’ Remarks For the University and Workforce Development Program (USWDP) University Chancellors’ Forum

Good morning everyone!  Thank you Bob and thanks to our education team for the outstanding work you are doing to develop higher education in Afghanistan.  I want to welcome all of our esteemed guests:  Mr. Abdul Latif Roshan, the Acting Minister of Higher Education, Deputy Ministers, distinguished University Chancellors, Directors and the University and Workforce Development Program (USWDP) Representatives.

Welcome to the University Chancellor’s Forum.  I would like to congratulate the Ministry of Higher Education, the universities, and the USWDP team for the terrific work you are doing implementing this important project.

Let me just make a couple of observations on the vital role of universities in the world we live in today.  I think universities should be places where the truth is always pursued; places where the truth is professed and valued.

Truth is more than an abstract concept – it is a driving principle of an open and free society.  Truth is the first step to scientific research and discovery, and it is the touchstone of transparency and accountability.  Too often, the forces of evil seek to subjugate the forces of light by actively denying a free people its right to knowledge and discovery, or by benignly neglecting the institutions of knowledge and creativity that make a people stronger and wiser.

Universities fulfill their role of spreading knowledge by engaging in the most rigorous scholarship and research and breaking through the obstacles that prevent us from understanding each other and the world around us.  To perform this role requires academics, researchers, and instructors to have the freedom to engage in this work, work that can sometimes be critical of the prevailing wisdom.

As seekers of truth, I do not believe anyone can carry out this responsibility more effectively than our universities.  I also believe if universities lose sight of this role, you cannot fulfill any other, including teaching the next generation of leaders.

Let me speak about a second role of universities.  They offer opportunity – no matter where you come from, or who you are.  Each and every man and woman deserves the same opportunity to live in security and dignity, to get an education, to find work, to give their children a better future.

Third, I believe universities must be committed to the broader goal of human development.  This has significant relevance for governments, policy makers, and those in business who must attract and retain an educated workforce.  But what do I think this means for those in higher education in a broader sense?

I believe scholars and students have a strong desire to address the urgent need of human development.  Universities are homes to a new generation, a generation which has grown up with new technologies – and we are now more connected than any time in history.

Through these new technologies, we can break down long-standing barriers.  In higher education, we need to tap into this energy, while providing a strong ethical foundation for it.

This ethical foundation begins with the moral obligation of assistance and compassion.  And, remember, none of this work can be the work by any university acting alone.  No single university in isolation has the resources to engage effectively in this work.  This work will require active collaboration across all sectors of our societies.  It will require deep partnerships, new kinds of relationships between and among universities, across national boundaries.

It will require local knowledge and expertise that can only be learned when shared through deep relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

It will require the commitment of international partners and programs like the USWDP, and aggressive pushes for further development and access to knowledge for all Afghans.

The USWDP began in 2014 with financial and technical support from the United States, and over the past three years, we’ve seen impressive results:  we have helped to establish 32 degree programs across 11 universities.

We have built dozens of partnerships between Afghan and U.S. universities, and the USWDP has sponsored 59 faculty members to complete advanced degree programs.

These are remarkable achievements for us all – especially for the higher education system of Afghanistan – a sector devastated by forty years of occupation, war, and Taliban rule.  The sea change of education in Afghanistan since 2001 is nothing short of miraculous, with more than 600,000 Afghans enrolled in institutions of higher learning, and forty percent of those being women.

We all know higher education is a critical component to revitalizing the Afghan economy, changing the dynamics of civic participation, and ushering in reform, which is why programs such as the USWDP are vitally important to Afghanistan’s future.

We can connect our universities here in Afghanistan, in the United States and throughout the world in an ever-deeper level of engagement as partners for truth.  We can contribute to the conditions that enable all of our people to live lives of dignity.  And we can build the potential of our people, especially our youth.

So it is important for us to come together in events like this.  It is through fora such as this one that the seeds for partnership are established.

Again, welcome to the University Chancellors’ Forum.  We hope bringing everyone together in one room to share achievements, challenges, and steps forward will enable you to reach consensus on approaches to sustain programs and continue to improve the quality of higher education in Afghanistan.

I commend all of the Chancellors for your leadership and devotion to the truth, to opportunity, to the human development of Afghanistan’s youth, and to partnering with others to create an enlightened future for this great nation of Afghanistan.

Let me reaffirm the support and assistance of the United States (through its USAID and Public Affairs programs) in your vital work at this key moment.

I wish everyone here the very best of success, not only in today’s forum and discussions, but in the promise-filled years to come.

Thank you.