MR PETER C. ALEGI
HONORARY CHAIRMENT OF THE ITALIAN STUDENT LOAN FUND
CELEBRATION OF 35th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ITALIAN STUDENT LOAN FUND
24 November , 2014, Rome, Italy
Mr Ambassador, Ladies and Gentlemen. Good afternoon.
It is a great pleasure to offer you a Double welcome to this celebration.
First, I welcome you on behalf of the Centro Studi Americani — in whose quarters we are gathered — as Vice President taking the place today of Gianni De Gennaro, who is called away on a pressing business matter.
Secondo, I welcome you on behalf of the Italian Student Loan Fund whose 35 years of activity we celebrate today –and which I serve as Honorary Chairman.
I have been asked to provide a short summary of the beginnings of the Fund.
The Italian Student Loan Fund was born in 1979 as a non-profit, non- political corporation to give financial assistance to Italian university graduates to pursue higher studies in the United States.
The chief reason for launching this enterprise was the low number of Italian students attending US universities — at the time the lowest of any European country, with few funds available from private or governmental sources.
Programs such as Fulbright were making significant efforts to meet student demand — but with insufficient funding — especially when, then as now, the cost of university tuition and expenses in the United States was rising sharply.
It was clear that this meant an inadequate number of Italians with international experience were entering the workforce to help Italy meet growing competition in increasingly globalised industries and in professional and academic circles.
MORE WAS NEEDED.
Faced with this challenge the American Ambassador, Richard Gardner– himself a professor of law –sought the collaboration of leading Italians including Guido Carli and Giulio Andreotti to find a way to increase the number of Italian students who could achieve the experience of American post-graduate education.
Ambassador Gardner and Guido Carli convened a meeting of nearly 100 major figures in the Italian economy and explained that a program to expand education in America of the best young Italians would not only benefit them personally in their careers but would produce Greater understanding of the United States and strengthen bilateral relationships. I had the honour of being present there at the beginning and enthusiastically taking up the challenge.
Ambassador Gardner had a clear vision – I quote excerpts from his letter convening us:
“- at present many qualified students are unable to undertake the studies they desire. Every qualified student who cannot fulfill their educational ambition constitutes a loss for Italian society.
- Participants should be selected on the basis of a distinguished academic record, knowledge of the English language and, subsequently, admission to a graduate program at a recognised American university.
- the program should enlarge opportunities for students from low income families and loans will not be denied on the basis of low family income.”
A committee was formed to work out the details of the program and get it under way as soon as possible. A not-for-profit corporation was formed in the state of Delaware with a branch office in Rome, thus avoiding the long delays to obtain all Italian approvals. The board of Directors was headed by Avv. Giuseppe Bisconti and myself. Basic principles were agreed, and within months the first applicants were considered.
For several years the Fulbright interviewing system was made available to the Fund and formed the principal basis of its selection but eventually the entire process was taken over by the Fund and functioned smoothly with the excellent organisation of Mrs. Luisa Bertelli, whom most of you have met and who is here today.
Initially loans were granted by Italian banks with an interest rate subsidy for the student but after two years the Fund was able to make loans directly from its own assets made up of contributions primarily from Italian businesses. While the Fund managed to secure this early funding, it seemed certain that such generosity could not be expected to be repeated on an annual basis. So the revolving loan approach ensured the enduring viability of the Fund – to this date.
Given the differences in the financial situations of the applicants, the Board determined that its financing would be in varying amounts up to a fixed maximum. While this approach has been maintained, the maximum has increased as tuition and other student costs have grown.
It was not then and has never been the purpose of the Fund to cover the full cost of post-graduate education in the United States. Rather it assists candidates who have other resources – whether partial US college scholarships, grants such as Fulbright, or personal savings.
A key feature in the loan arrangements determined by the Board of Directors from the outset is the delay of two and a half years before the start of repayments which are then stretched over five years.
Several of the financial institutions participating in the project were initially insistent upon requiring guarantees from applicants’ families as a condition of receiving a loan–pointing out the high default rate of student loans in the United States. But the decision of the Board– which is still in effect –was that the very nature of the program and Ambassador Gardner’s vision to include students from low income families required the no guarantee approach called in Italy an honor loan. The choice was wise and it is a tribute to that wisdom and to our Italian students that less than one half of one percent of the loans extended over the years have not been repaid.
The simplicity of the revolving fund mechanism executed directly by the Fund has permitted hundreds of Italian scholars to benefit from an American post-graduate educational experience. This year 265 thousand Chinese young people are studying in the United States seeking that same experience and benefitting themselves and their country.
So our Fund still has some distance to go – we are working on it.
And today we are celebrating how far we have come over the first 35 years.