Fulbright wheels out the big guns in its fight for funds

November 8, 1996

One of the world's biggest and most successful educational exchange schemes is fighting to defend itself against criticism that it has been undermined by globalisation.

The Fulbright Programme, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is hoping to persuade potential private backers that its mission "to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries" is as important in the information age as it was in 1946.

The money is needed to fund a plan to double the number of Fulbright students over the next three years to study in the United Kingdom and the US. Around 25 awards were available this year for UK students to go to the US and 25 for Americans to come to the UK.

But Harriet Fulbright, the widow of Senator J. William Fulbright who set up the programme, stresses that the new money would not be used to replace lost state funding. Last year, the USgovernment decided to cut the programme's $1 billion budget by 20 per cent, and there are fears that further reductions might be made.

Mrs Fulbright explained: "There are those in Congress who feel that because of the massive improvement in communications and new technology the programme no longer serves the purposes it once did. They say people hear the news as soon as it happens, so we no longer have a reason to move people from country to country. But we still need to travel to get the full picture."

Since its foundation around 200,000 people, including 130,000 non-Americans, have participated in the programme. Last year, students and scholars from nearly 700 overseas institutions received support to study at nearly 300 American colleges and universities. Mrs Fulbright points out that the state funding for the programme amounts to the cost of around three days' spending by the US defence department. As her late husband, who died last year, put it, the total cost of the programme has yet to exceed the price of one battleship.

Mrs Fulbright is keeping the big guns on her side when it comes to answering the critics. A fund-raising Fulbright anniversary celebration dinner in London this week had Microsoft's Bill Gates as its guest. "He has stressed the importance of personal interaction, and said that the computer cannot substitute for the human teacher."

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