US ambassador to Greece George J. Tsunis touches on the entire gamut of bilateral and binational cooperation in the higher education sector, following last year’s pioneering Pharos Summit, an initiative spearheaded by the Greek Ministry of Education, the Institute of International Education (IIE), the US embassy in Athens and Fulbright Greece.


  1. One year into the collaboration between Greek and American universities, where do we stand with the “Pharos” program, and what direction is it taking?

The groundbreaking Pharos Summit marked the first major binational effort to solidify educational partnerships between the United States and Greece. It was a tremendous success, and it attracted a historic delegation of U.S. university representatives to Greece to broaden and deepen our partnerships with all of Greece’s 24 public universities. The United States is proud to be Greece’s number one partner in academic cooperation, and the Pharos Summit further strengthened this outstanding partnership. Our Embassy was delighted to be an integral part of the team that made Pharos possible.

The Pharos Summit laid a strong foundation that we continue to build upon. We are grateful for the close, values-based partnership that we share with the Greek government, especially with the Ministry of Education. Minister Pierrakakis is a steadfast ally, and he and I are in regular communication about how to further expand our partnership. Our Embassy also works closely with the leadership of Greek public universities, helping identify new opportunities for collaboration. Several exciting efforts are underway!

The Pharos Summit showed us that there is great interest from both the United States and Greece to work in partnership on educational exchange. And I was so pleased to see that this year’s Open Doors statistics underscored this point. More U.S. students and universities are looking to Greece than ever before. And these growing ties go both ways! We saw a 5.5 percent increase in Greek students studying in the United States. Our Embassy is working closely with Greek stakeholders to make sure that these numbers continue to grow, to the benefit of our students, our universities, and ultimately the relationship between our two nations.

  1. Are we getting closer to the idea of “joint degrees” between Greek and American universities?

Every university must determine its own needs in terms of international partnerships. Some universities may wish to pursue joint degrees. Other universities might be more interested in short-term student exchange programs, or joint research. Both the U.S. and Greek systems allow this kind of flexibility to adjust the nature and structure of each academic partnership.

If I had to point out one major strength of the U.S. education system, I’d say it’s diversity. Our system features wide range of institutions that provide students with choices in where, what, and how they study based on their interests and needs. This diversity also enables academic institutions to find the “right fit” and to cultivate successful partnerships internationally.

I would like to emphasize here that this year’s Open Doors data shows us that thousands of U.S. and Greek students choose to participate in short-term for-credit programs, so I see huge potential to create more programs which will respond to this demand. Investing in these programs also means investing in infrastructure, housing, and student services.

Our Embassy stands ready to help pave the way for all forms of educational partnerships, in collaboration with our Greek partners.

  1. “How do you see Greek and American professors working together to contribute to the two countries’ development?”

Greek and American professors foster strong academic ties and contributing to the development and progress of both countries. Collaboration, shared expertise, and the exchange of ideas can lead to a more interconnected and prosperous future for all. Of course, the Greek diaspora in the United States is a valuable asset for both countries. I have observed that so many successful educational collaborations started with Greek professors in the United States who wanted to connect with their home country. As a fellow Greek American, I understand well that desire to connect with the homeland.

Another way we foster long-term academic collaboration is through the Gilman Scholarship, a State Department program, which enables students of limited financial means to study abroad, providing them with skills critical to our national security and economic prosperity. The Gilman Scholars who come to Greece return to their U.S. universities with strong connections that often turn into longer-term collaborations.

These connections are a testament to how much our societies have in common and how we can all mutually benefit from U.S.-Greek cooperation in all academic fields as we build the next generation of leaders.

  1. In our country, we’ve started discussing the establishment of branches of foreign universities and the operation of private universities. What would your perspective be on this matter?

The United States hosts approximately 4,000 academic institutions of different varieties, including public and private universities, community colleges, and more. This unique academic system ensures that students from a wide array of backgrounds can find the education that’s right for them. This structure can be highly appealing to international students as well, and it attracts hundreds of thousands of overseas students to the United States each year for studies.

Here in Greece, our Embassy has been investing heavily in relationships with Greek public universities. In addition to the Pharos Summit, we also regularly host U.S. expert speakers who connect with Greek public universities to share their expertise and help overcome challenges to internationalization. Of course, our Embassy also has outstanding relationships with the U.S.-affiliated schools here in Greece, who also have an important role in the country’s educational internationalization.

  1. Recently, students in American universities made public statements in favor of the Palestinian side in the recent Middle East crisis. What has this left behind?

In the United States, we take great pride in the freedoms that drive academia, including the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. We believe that peaceful gatherings and expressions of free speech are hallmarks of our democracy. These freedoms are crucial for advancing knowledge, developing critical thinking, and promoting a just and informed society. They underpin the integrity and independence of academic institutions, which are essential for the progress of individuals, communities, and humanity.

At the same time, we urge everyone to respect each other’s rights. As President Biden has said, antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate have no place in America.

In a flourishing democracy, citizens can express themselves freely. The United States recognizes academic freedom not as a benefit, but as a foundation and a prerequisite for students to thrive.

This is a value we share with Greece, which is why educational partnerships between the United States and Greece just make sense. I hope that more students around the world, not only in the United States and Europe, can enjoy these freedoms and join their fellow students in shaping their futures freely.

  1. What educational opportunities does the U.S. Embassy offer to the Greek public?

In celebration of International Education Week 2023, I want to highlight a few other educational opportunities our Embassy offers for Greek students who want to study in the United States.

Fulbright remains our flagship bilateral educational exchange program. Greece hosts the oldest Fulbright Commission in Europe and the second oldest in the world. Through this program, more than 6,000 Greek and American fellows have traveled to one another’s countries in the last eight decades to learn, to grow, and to serve as cultural ambassadors.

Another way we foster long-term academic collaboration is through the Gilman Scholarship, a State Department program, which enables students of limited financial means to study abroad, providing them with skills critical to our national security and economic prosperity. The Gilman Scholars who come to Greece return to their U.S. universities with strong connections that often turn into longer-term collaborations.

For the second year in a row, our Embassy is offering the Ambassadors Fund for Summer Work Travel (SWT) scholarship for university students in Greece to travel to the United States on a summer cultural exchange and to work in seasonal jobs. This is such a fantastic opportunity for young people to experience life in the United States, while also earning money to bring back home!

For younger students, the U.S. Embassy in Athens supports the Future Leaders Exchange program, which offers scholarships for high school students ages 15-17 to study for an academic year at a U.S. high school and live with an American family. We also have the TechGirls program, which brings together girls ages 15-17 from around the world for a summer program on STEM skills and women’s empowerment. The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowships is another opportunity for Greek high school students to travel to the U.S. and engage with fellow students to collaborate on tackling the challenges of our times. I invite all students, their parents, and their teachers to visit the relevant websites, and find out more about these life-changing experiences!