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Fulbright Scholarship Programme: Funding

Volume 722: debated on Monday 22 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the funding of the Fulbright scholarship programme in the light of the United States’ commitment to maintain its level of funding.

My Lords, we are still working our way through the detail of the spending review and cannot yet confirm the level of funding for the Fulbright scholarship programme from 2011. We recognise the importance of the Fulbright scholarship programme. Officials will continue to engage with the commissioners on these issues. We will communicate the outcome of the funding settlement as soon as we can.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I hope that he can give me just a little more comfort. He will know the huge added value that the UK Government grant can leverage in the numbers of scholarships. The grant is modest, but it is crucial to increasing the number of awards. Does he agree that if the Government do not maintain their grant, it may affect that leverage? Is there not a danger that potential donors will think that the UK Government are not paying their rightful share?

My Lords, I want to make it clear that the United Kingdom Government are fully committed to the Fulbright scholarship programme and that we will provide the best possible settlement. However, we are not in a position to make that clear at the moment. The noble Baroness is right to stress that there are other funds that can come in, and I pay tribute to the Fulbright Commission for bringing in significant new funds from university partners, donations and research charities. I hope that that will continue. Nevertheless, as I made clear in my original Answer, we cannot make any commitment at this stage.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former recipient of the Fulbright travel award, without which the course of my life might well have been changed. I am surprised by his statement that the amount is being considered. Is this not a treaty obligation, and does not the treaty set out very clearly that two-thirds should be paid by the United States-end of the arrangement and one-third by this end? The sums involved here, which he says are in the spending review, are unbelievably small compared with the overall picture.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend who is, I think, one of eight Members of this House who are former Fulbright scholars, and I think others wish to intervene later. Indeed, I can see even more. I accept that the sums are, as I put it, relatively modest, but this is not a treaty obligation. An agreement is in place that the United States would pay roughly two-thirds and we would pay one-third. However, it has not quite worked out like that and the United States has frozen its grant for the past five years. All I can say at this stage is that in the course of the spending review, we will consider the appropriate amount to put in, but as I made clear earlier, we remain committed to the programme.

My Lords, I also declare an interest as a former Fulbright scholar, even though I am on a different side of the House. Will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that they do not have to weather the embarrassment of breaking the treaty, which was set up in 1948 in equally austere times, with our closest ally?

The noble Lord is right to declare his interest. He is one of two Fulbright scholars on the Labour Benches. There are two on the Cross Benches, two on the Liberal Democrat Benches and two on the Conservative Benches, according to the research that I have done so far. I am sure that there are more because I seem to have an indication from another noble Lord, who shall remain nameless, that he might be one, but I do not know at this stage.

There is no breaking of treaty obligations in this matter. It is an informal agreement and we will do what we can. All I can say is that we remain committed to it, but I cannot give a final answer to the noble Lord or to the House until these matters have been considered in detail.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the homework that his department has done, and declare my interest, having travelled as a graduate student to the United States courtesy of a Fulbright award from the United States. Is he aware that this programme is part of the offering of thanks made by the people of Britain to the people of the United States, and that it is a serious obligation? Will he bear that in mind when moving forward?

My Lords, I believe that this is a serious obligation on the people of both the United Kingdom and the United States. The agreement was set up back in 1947 as the result of suggestions, as I understand it, originally made by Senator Fulbright from the United States. I do not know from which side it came, but there is a commitment. All I can do is to repeat what I have said: we remain committed to the programme, but I cannot give any final figures at this stage.

My Lords, may I add my name to the distinguished list of names from all around the House and say how proud I am to be part of such a group? Does the Minister agree that Administrations, strikingly of all kinds, in the United States have maintained very generously their commitment to the Fulbright programme? Does he also agree that it enables people from every possible background and regardless of income, if they have the ability to benefit from them, to have the great advantage of spending time in the United States and really getting to understand that amazing country much better than they would without that opportunity?

My Lords, I am glad that we have now heard from a former Fulbright scholar from all four sections of the House, and I offer my congratulations to the noble Baroness. Again, there has been a commitment by all parties, but I should point out as I did earlier, that the United States grant has remained static for the past four or five years, so it has not been raising it. Although we have raised it in the past, we now have to consider where we are. All I can say yet again to the House is that we will consider these matters in due course, and we expect to finalise details of the settlement relatively soon in the new year.

I declare an interest as not having been a member of the Fulbright programme. Does the Minister agree that the equality of distribution of Fulbright scholarships around the House is a remarkable tribute to the memory of Senator Fulbright?

I thank the noble Lord for his contribution. I am grateful that although he is not a Fulbright scholar he has chosen to intervene, and that there are still four more who can.

On a slightly different topic, can the noble Lord say, as a non-recipient, whether he will continue to fund the Chevening scholarships?

My Lords, that is a matter for the Foreign Office, but obviously I am answering for Her Majesty’s Government as a whole. I understand that there is still a commitment from the Foreign Office to continue in that field.

My Lords, the Minister is in danger of giving mixed messages: strong support for Fulbright scholarships but no commitment to funding. Now we have heard about the Chevening scholarships. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office business plan calls for a strategy to enhance the impact of the UK’s contribution to conflict prevention by way of scholarship provision, yet a Written Ministerial Statement on 10 July said that there would be a £10 million reduction in its funding. Can the Minister state what that funding represents; when it will be put in place; and what programmes are to be curtailed?

I am afraid I will not be able to help the noble Lord on this occasion. I have made it clear that I am answering specifically on the Fulbright scholarships. We believe that there is value in all the scholarships that we have throughout government, and we will offer them support where we can. However, the noble Lord must recognise that difficult decisions have to be made about spending because of what we inherited from the previous Government.