Dear Friend of Indiana University,

Toward the end of my first year as president of Indiana University, in 2007, the university unveiled its first international strategic plan developed under the leadership of former Vice President for International Affairs Patrick O’Meara, and subsequently led by his successor, Vice President David Zaret, and his outstanding staff. This plan was one of the first of its kind anywhere in the U.S., and its key goals were to strengthen the global literacy of our students and further IU’s position as one of America’s most international institutions of higher education.

The plan emphasizes several central initiatives, including expanding the number of IU students studying abroad; recruiting highly qualified international students to our campuses across the state; and fostering teaching and research collaborations between IU faculty and their colleagues from the world’s leading universities.

The plan is designed to give direction to the expanding international programs on all of our campuses, and it reflects an ever-changing marketplace that demands IU students in every field acquire global competencies in order to understand, collaborate and compete with their counterparts around the world. In addition, it helps provide a foundation for IU to better address major economic, political and intellectual challenges brought on by globalization and international competition.

Today, IU is more internationally focused and committed than at probably any other time in the university’s history. Our Bloomington campus ranks fifth in the number of students who study abroad and 10th out of more than 1,200 U.S. universities in the number of international students enrolled. More foreign languages (between 70 and 80 annually) are taught at IU Bloomington than at any other college or university in the country, and the university is home to three Language Flagships, two National Language Resource Centers and an intensive Summer Language Workshop for Slavic, East European, Middle Eastern and Central Asian languages. Additionally, IU boasts 11 prestigious federally funded Title VI area studies centers—the largest number of such centers anywhere in the U.S.

Many of these acclaimed language programs, area studies centers and other international activities are now housed in our School of Global and International Studies. And the school will see a number of new initiatives, such as the establishment of a Center for Southeast Asian and Association of Southeast Asian Nations Studies, one of the few centers in the U.S. to focus on this vital area of the world.

As I said when IU trustees approved the creation of the new school, that decision was one of the most important academic actions ever taken in the university’s history. Indeed, there is almost no area of American society today that is not affected by global forces and developments, and the school, which will soon have its own splendid new building, will firmly position IU as a national leader in the study of the most important issues affecting our world.

Building bridges in Asia

Central to our international strategic plan and the success of the School of Global and International Studies is the development of substantial partnerships with the world’s top universities and strong connections with our internationally based alumni in a number of key countries on which we are focusing.

Last month, I led an IU delegation on a two-week trip to Asia, a region of the world where the university’s connections are deep and long-standing, and which reflect IU’s ever-expanding international impact. While in Japan, China, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong, we met with administrators and faculty at several of the world’s most highly ranked universities, as well as with IU alumni living and working overseas, prominent business leaders and high-ranking government officials.

This trip was extremely productive and an extensive chronicle of it can be found at our IU Goes to Asia web site. I will just focus on a few events that stood out as shining examples of IU’s dedicated commitment to globalization and engagement in this increasingly vital part of the world.

Rejuvenation in Japan 

Japan was the first stop on our trip and our priority was to explore new connections and collaborations aimed at stemming a trend of fewer Japanese students studying at IU (and in the U.S. more generally), and fewer American students studying in Japan. We also sought to rejuvenate our relations with a number of Japan’s top teaching and research universities, and energize our alumni base there.

Indeed, increasing study abroad numbers between Japan and the United States and fully engaging our alumni base are missions we share with Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan’s premier private university, and we discussed how we might work together to address these problems on our visit there. Both IU and Waseda, institutional partners since 2012, have about the same number—600,000—of living alumni worldwide. Likewise, we also hope to build upon our relationship with one of Japan’s oldest and most prestigious universities, Osaka University, to re-energize student exchanges and explore new educational and research collaborations in areas such as language instruction and cultural studies, where we have matching interests and rich and considerable resources.

A personal note: I have visited Japan more than 30 times since 1987, and I have seen both many positive and negative developments there over the last three decades. For example, Japanese students once comprised one of the largest groups of students studying abroad, but for many years that number has been declining substantially, due in part to increasing nationwide insularity. On this trip, however, the prevailing sense from those with whom we met is that “Japan is back,” and we certainly saw evidence of this in our university visits.

We are especially encouraged by a major U.S.-Japan study, which has recommended a goal of doubling the number of students studying abroad by 2020 to the governments of both nations. Indeed, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy told us during a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo that the issue is important enough that it was recently discussed between President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A new global gateway in Beijing

The highlight of our trip to Beijing was the official opening of the new IU China Gateway Office, the university’s first fully functioning international office (a second will open later this year in New Delhi, India). This facility will serve as a home base for IU activities in China, a country where IU has especially strong ties, dating back more than a century. Last year alone, 225 IU students studied in China, and currently more than 40 percent of IU’s 8,000 international students come from China. There are also more than 4,000 IU alumni affiliated with China living around the world, and the university continues to welcome some of the country’s leading scholars and students to its campuses.

More than 70 guests—including prominent IU Chinese alumni, business and government officials, administrators, faculty, students and staff—were in attendance at the celebration to help us open the 4,000-square-foot office, which will accommodate a wide range of activities, including scholarly research and teaching; conferences and workshops; study abroad programs; distance learning initiatives; executive and corporate programs; and alumni events. The new office will also accelerate IU’s academic initiatives and partnerships, which include a number of China’s most highly ranked universities.

Indeed, though the opening was the highlight of our visit, we also signed further five-year extensions to our primary agreements with Tsinghua University; the China University of Political Science and Law, one of China’s top law schools and with whom we will be opening a joint center in October at IU Bloomington; and Beijing Sport University, China’s premier sports university and a partner of IU’s School of Public Health for the last 25 years. These partnerships will generate new opportunities for student and faculty exchanges, bring our institutions even closer together and ensure that the university continues to strengthen its impressive foothold in China, which was captured very well in this recent article in China Daily.

Institution building in Vietnam

Nearly as impressive as IU’s 100-year-old connections in China is the university’s longstanding tradition, dating back more than a half-century, of international outreach and institution-building in nations that have benefited from its vast educational and research capabilities. In Asia alone, IU’s efforts have contributed to the strengthening of educational and governmental institutions in nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and, most recently, Myanmar.

IU has a similarly vibrant institution-building effort underway in Vietnam, where faculty experts from our School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the number two-ranked school of its kind in the U.S., are engaged in strengthening the academic and governmental structures in one of Asia’s most diverse and dynamic economies.

As the first standing IU president ever to visit Vietnam, I had the honor and privilege of hearing from several of our key partners in Vietnam just how much of an impact our collaborative efforts are having in enhancing that nation’s economy and society. Those efforts include the Vietnam Young Leader Awards. The prestigious scholarship program, inaugurated in 2010, sends Vietnam’s most outstanding government officials to SPEA, where they can strengthen their policymaking and management skills, expand their worldview and, ultimately, return home with an advanced academic degree.

The Vietnam Young Leader Awards program has already produced about 25 graduates, many of whom we had the pleasure of meeting at a special reception in Hanoi at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear. These are amazing young people who are determined to better the quality of life for their fellow Vietnamese countrymen and bring the U.S. and Vietnam closer together. Indeed, their work has set the stage for IU to engage in even more exchange initiatives in Vietnam, which we discussed extensively during productive meetings with top officials at the National Assembly of Vietnam, the Vietnam International Education Development office, the National Academy of Public Administration and Vietnam National University, the first modern university ever established in the country and one of the two national universities in Vietnam.

Our greatest global ambassadors

Our student exchange programs, faculty research collaborations, institution-building efforts and historic initiatives like the new IU China Gateway Office strongly demonstrate the major impact that IU continues to have around the world. However, there is no greater reflection of IU’s remarkable international standing than our thousands of alumni living and working overseas. As I have said on numerous occasions, IU’s international alumni are among the university’s best ambassadors.

During our two-week trip to Asia, members of the IU delegation participated in record-sized alumni chapter meetings in Tokyo and Singapore and enthusiastic gatherings with graduates in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong. In Tokyo, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of a chapter that represents IU’s more than 1,500 alumni living in Japan. During that lively celebration, I had the honor of presenting renowned Japanese cellist and former Jacobs School of Music faculty member Tsutsumi Tsuyoshi with the Thomas Hart Benton Medallion, one of IU’s highest honors. Just several days later in Singapore, I presented the same award to IU Maurer School of Law alumnus David L. Carden, who recently served as the first resident ambassador of the U.S. to ASEAN. To an audience of about 160 Singaporean alumni and guests, many of whom were eager to share stories about how much IU meant to their personal and professional success, Ambassador Carden spoke eloquently about the power of a liberal arts education and IU’s proud history of global engagement.

Since the launch of the IU International Strategic Plan, the number of active chapters of the IU Alumni Association around the world has almost doubled. And by the time of the IU bicentennial in 2020, we expect to have established six or seven global gateway offices, including the one we just opened in Beijing. Then it can be truly said, in Herman Wells’ memorable words, that, "The campus of Indiana University is not just in Bloomington, or even the state of Indiana; it encompasses the four corners of the globe."

Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for Indiana University.

Yours sincerely,

Michael A. McRobbie