The role of educational exchanges in Public Diplomacy caught my interest since the discussion on Australia-India relations in April. When it comes to educational exchange, the United States has a strong recall in India (Nearly 100,000 Indians study in the US every year). It also contributed to building strong ‘generational bonds’ between both countries with a promise to deepen the strategic partnership further.
To explore educational exchanges between India and United States, I thought it worthwhile to meet with Ms Stephanie F. Morimura, Cultural Attaché for Exchanges, Embassy of United States of America, in New Delhi. Stephanie helped me understand the ‘policy connection’ behind educational exchanges between India and United States better. Stephanie received me at the American Centre and what followed was a stimulating discussion on the role of education in Indo-US relations.
A STRATEGIC INITIATIVE
Stephanie believes that educational exchange has a significant role to play in strengthening public diplomacy initiatives and furthering strategic goals. In the larger scheme of things, US educational exchange programs are congressionally-funded programs and very much a part of overall strategy of furthering U.S. national interests abroad.
|Stephanie Morimura at the American Centre in New Delhi
“Every country has strategic goals,” said Stephanie and for United States, exchange programs promote better understanding and cooperation among people of both countries. Eventually, Stephanie said it helps “cooperating better on a range of issues, including security issues, especially regional security.” It’s the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, under the Department of State that is the nodal body administering these programs worldwide. The money that is spent worldwide varies from mission to mission in support of specific goals of every mission.
Most of us who are familiar with Fulbright programs only, Stephanie said the depth and extent of engagement of United States in educational exchange is actually quite comprehensive. For a list of programs that are operational worldwide see the following link: Exchange Programs.
Stephanie talked at length about the International Visitor’s Leadership Program with India. “India has one of the largest programs,” she said. This is actually a demonstration of the deepening ties between both countries at the strategic level. The department’s website describes this program as, “The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Launched in 1940, the IVLP is a professional exchange program that seeks to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders.”
“Ms Indira Gandhi and President Pratibha Patil have been IVLP fellows,” said Stephanie.
BUILD NETWORKS OF INFLUENCE
The focus of current exchange programs with India is to build networks and sustain those to create an enduring relationship between both countries. This is a paradigm shift from earlier times where it just ended with facilitating an exchange. Stephanie talked passionately about newer domains that her department is moving into like social developmental projects. There are programs for youth from underprivileged sections (who otherwise do not have the means to travel to US) that give opportunities to them to visit the US for summer and year-long study programs. They are supported with a mentorship program when they are back in India and connected with other alums of various programs so that their development is continuous. “We do not want them to flounder when they are back,” said Stephanie of the mentorship program demonstrating a commitment for a long term involvement in the lives of these people and also an appreciation of their need for joining the mainstream once back from United States.
BARRIERS TO EXCHANGES
While the number of visitors from India is huge one of the challenges is the relatively smaller number of Americans who come to India to study. On an average, only 2800 students come to India from United States annually. Most of these come for short term programs. This is a significant barrier for both countries to overcome. “There are infrastructure constraints on Indian campuses and the support system for international visitors needs to be built up.,” said Stephanie.
However the potential for this partnership to grow is huge. “There is also a huge interest in U.S. Universities for partnership with Indian educational institutions and we are actively encouraging that.” She said that the US and India hope to hold a higher education summit in the Fall this year to build ties between educational institutions of both countries.
I asked Stephanie if educational ties contributed to India being listed as among the few countries where US has high positive mindshare according to a Pew Survey last year. “Mutual understanding is the key,” said Stephanie and agrees that educational exchanges enable a better appreciation of U.S. society, values and culture. Educational exchanges are focused on experiential learning and she said, “Nothing beats personal experience.”
|Study of United States Institutes (SUSI) alumni