I read with dismay that the State Department is planning a new program to provide professional development in the US for young African and Asian leaders. While I celebrate any new international educational initiative, I do not understand why it has to come at the expense of the Fulbright program.
The Fulbright program was founded in 1946 to foster international exchanges and research long before student and scholar mobility was as common an occurrence as it has become today. According to the Fulbright website, more than 325,400 individuals from more than 140 countries have benefited from the program since its inception. Fulbright offers a wide array of grants for short and long-term study for American citizens to go abroad as well as for foreign nationals to come to the US. I would venture to say that for most of the beneficiaries, this kind of international opportunity would not have been possible otherwise.
To say that the Fulbright program has cultivated good will for the US throughout the world would be an understatement. Many former grantees have returned home to influential positions in government, universities, and industry in the US and abroad. Examples of US grantees noted on the Fulbright website include:
. . . a range of professions and include ambassadors, members of Congress, judges, heads of corporations, university presidents, journalists, artists, professors, and teachers. Bose Corporation founder Amar Bose, actor John Lithgow, composer Philip Glass, opera singer Renee Fleming and economist Joseph Stiglitz are among notable former grantees.
The exchanges have provided endless opportunities for collaboration as well as for mutual understanding and respect. From my perspective, the Fulbright program has served as a counterweight to many poor policy decisions that have sullied the US image abroad.
The benefits of international exchange are long-term and long lasting. Sadly, it seems that we live in a country where there is only short-term. The new State Department initiatives for Africa and Asia involve six-week stays abroad and the proposed funding of $30 million and would result in a corresponding $30 million cut in the Fulbright budget.
The 2013 budget for the Fulbright program was just shy of $323 million, with $80 million contributed by foreign governments. This is a pittance within the budget for the US State Department for the same year that was upwards of $13 billion. Compare this to the Erasmus + program funded by the European Union. The 2014 appropriation is $14.7 billion, an increase of 40%! More than 60% of the budget is reserved for student and scholar mobility with a seven-year commitment. Not only does Europe fund a budget that dwarfs the Fulbright program but, as a result, the EU can support a much broader range of programs with its generous budget. Just consider the long-term benefits of this kind of international mobility, collaboration, and communication!
Anyone who has studied recent trends in internationalization will acknowledge that it is not necessary to spend a semester or a year abroad in order to benefit from the experience. But it is equally true that there are significant differences that result from different kinds of experience. In a world where it is imperative for more Americans to have more contact with citizens from other cultures in order to function successfully in a globalized world, we need ALL of these experiences. It is truly sad to think that our politicians value these experiences so little that in order to add new, we need to cut the little that we had. It’s short-term thinking.
In a prompt response to my recent letter to her, Senator Elizabeth Warren indicated that the proposed cuts to the Fulbright program are unlikely to be approved. Let's hope.