INTRODUCTION TO THE FULBRIGHT PROGRAM
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. While the Fulbright Commission in Brussels administers the Fulbright Program for citizens of Belgium and Luxembourg as well as participants in the Fulbright-Schuman Program, the program operates in over 160 countries worldwide and awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,900 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. More than 380,000 “Fulbrighters” from over 160 countries have participated in the program since its inception in 1946.
The Fulbright Schuman Program, administered by the Fulbright Commission in Brussels and jointly financed by the U.S. State Department and the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission provides grants for:
- Citizens of EU Member States to conduct research in the United States (learn more)
- American citizens to conduct research in the European Union (learn more)
HISTORY OF THE FULBRIGHT SCHUMAN PROGRAM
In September 1945, the freshman senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright (1905-1995), introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that called for the use of proceeds from the sales of surplus war property to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.” One year later, President Harry S. Truman signed the Fulbright Act into law. Today, Fulbright is the most widely recognized and prestigious international exchange program in the world, supported for more than half a century by the American people through an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress and by the people of partner nations. The program—working with universities, schools, binational Fulbright commissions, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector—actively seeks out individuals of achievement and potential who represent the full diversity of their respective societies and selects nominees through open, merit-based competitions.
While the Fulbright Program has existed in many European countries (including Belgium and Luxembourg) since the 1940s, the Fulbright Schuman Program is a more recent addition, dating back to the early 1990s.
The first exchanges under the auspices of the new Fulbright Program between the United States of America and the European Union were realized during the academic year 1991-1992, following a pilot program spearheaded by Dr. William Glade, then the Associate Director for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the United States Information Agency. Due to its location, the Fulbright Commission in Brussels was asked to administer the new program, with the support and help of the U.S. Mission to the European Communities and the Task Force on Human Resources, Education and Youth (now the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.) At approximately the same time, the EU and the U.S. Department of Education through FIPSE, headed at that time by Buddy Karelis, signed an agreement for a pilot project for exchanges between the U.S. and the European Union, similar to the already very successful Erasmus program. In the first year of what would become the Fulbright Schuman Program, a total of $130,000 provided for four Americans — two scholars and two graduate students — to study the structures of the European Commission, and for two European Commission officials to serve as Scholars in Residence at selected U.S. universities.
The success of the exchanges ensured continued funding in subsequent years, and the program was formalized in the 1995 Agreement Between the European Community and the United States of America Establishing a Cooperation Programme in Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training. In 2000 and again in 2006, the United States and the European Union renewed their commitment to “promote mutual understanding between the peoples of the European Community and the United States including broader knowledge of their languages, cultures and institutions” and to “improve the quality of human resource development in both the European Community and the United States, including the acquisition of skills required to meet the challenges of the global knowledge-based economy” through the Fulbright Schuman Program. (Click here to read the 2006 agreement!)
Today, the Fulbright Schuman Program continues to provide opportunities for Americans and Europeans to study and conduct research on the transatlantic relationship. The program funds graduate and post-graduate study, research, and lecture proposals in the field of US-EU relations, EU policy, or EU institutions for interested American and EU citizens. The Fulbright Schuman Program, administered by the Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States and Belgium, is jointly financed by the U.S. State Department and the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission.
Between 1991 and 2019, the Fulbright Schuman Program provided grants to 225 European students and scholars and to 185 American students and scholars.
THE FULBRIGHT IMPACT
Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has continued to be agile and innovative in its approaches to fostering mutual understanding and people-to-people connections. In the 21st century, Fulbrighters address critical priorities in all world areas while building relationships, knowledge, and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the United States and the world. The program has prepared participants to address the major global challenges of our time, from energy sustainability and economic development to public health and food security. The Fulbright Program also has a significant and lasting local impact. Upon returning to their home countries, institutions, or classrooms, Fulbrighters share their stories and experiences and often engage in follow-on projects or continue the work they started abroad. This engagement creates a multiplier effect that leads to lifelong collaborations between communities.
The Fulbright Program awards more than 3,000 competitive, merit-based grants annually to students, scholars, teachers, artists, scientists, and professionals from across the United States. Fulbrighters hail from hundreds of U.S. institutions of all types and sizes; they study, teach and research in almost 100 different academic and professional fields; and they exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns in more than 140 countries. Each Fulbrighter’s experience is unique and depends on a variety of factors, including project details, location, and language abilities. Despite the variety of experiences, Fulbrighters all describe their experiences as life changing and having a profound influence on their professional and personal endeavors.