USNEI was created in 1996 in response to requests from the (then) U.S. Information Agency (USIA, now the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State) and several private sector educational associations. These organizations sought a central information point for international education information and asked that it be located in the U.S. Department of Education.
At the same time, the United States was negotiating a new international convention on recognition and mobility, the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region. This agreement was signed by the United States on April 11, 1997, and came into force on December 15, 1999. Under Sections VIII-X of the Lisbon Convention, USNEI was designated by the United States to function as the official U.S. information center on matters of recognition and mobility and to participate in the European Network of Information Centers (ENIC Network). (The United States belongs to the European Region of UNESCO, hence the association with the Lisbon Convention, one of six similar and linked regional recognition conventions.)
The founding meeting of USNEI in 1996 was co-hosted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), the Director of the (then) U.S. Information Agency (USIA) (now the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs), and the Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education (OPE) of the U.S. Department of Education, representing the Secretary of Education. USNEI has been located in the International Affairs Office since 2002.
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