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Academic ambassadors, Pacific alliesAustralia, America and the Fulbright Program$

Alice Garner and Diane Kirkby

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781526128973

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526128973.001.0001

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‘In the climate of continuing financial restraint’: Finding a sustainable future in the neo-liberal university

‘In the climate of continuing financial restraint’: Finding a sustainable future in the neo-liberal university

(p.188) 10 ‘In the climate of continuing financial restraint’: Finding a sustainable future in the neo-liberal university
Academic ambassadors, Pacific allies

Alice Garner

Diane Kirkby

Manchester University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The impact of neo-liberalism on the university sector had profound consequences for the Fulbright program’s ability to support academic research. Binationalism had meant the Australian Fulbright program was well-funded by the Australian government even as the US government reduced its contribution in the late 1960s-70s. From the 1980s further cutbacks meant the program had to turn towards private sector and corporate funding for support, involve the alumni and to introduce targeted scholarships. This raised dilemmas about autonomy and freedom from interference that had plagued the Fulbright program throughout its history.

Keywords:   Fulbright program, Educational exchange, US cultural diplomacy, Neo-liberalism in universities

The election of Ronald Reagan as US president in 1980 heralded the arrival of a new era for the Fulbright Program. Policies profoundly opposed to government intervention were to transform the relationship of public institutions and programs to their sources of funding and the political support of their programs.1 Free market economics promising increased wealth brought major cutbacks in government spending across the board. Public universities and departments involved in education and foreign affairs were not spared, and the ripple effects quickly reached the Fulbright Program.

The scheme’s administrators and supporters in the United States and partner nations had already been fighting to maintain funding to the scheme since neo-liberalism emerged as a political force in the late 1970s. Under President Jimmy Carter a ‘draconian shift’ occurred in US monetary policy: ‘The long-standing commitment in the US liberal democratic state to the principles of the New Deal … was abandoned in favour of a policy designed to quell inflation no matter what the consequences.’2 The assumption that ‘mutual understanding’ was worth expenditure of taxpayers’ money came under renewed scrutiny. Those working behind the scenes had their work cut out for them over the ensuing decades of streamlining and number-crunching. That the scheme survived at all is a testament to the energy and commitment of many people – scholars, public servants, alumni and administrators – working quietly to protect Fulbright’s big idea.

Neo-liberalism was theoretically an economic project, a ‘design for the reorganization of international capitalism’, but it was the political project – ‘to restore the power of economic elites’ – that dominated the next four decades.3 In that period Australia had a Liberal-National Party (L-NP) coalition government under Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (1975–83) who aligned with the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher’s British government (elected in 1979). Thirteen years of ALP government followed, first under Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who had once been the recipient of a US Leader scholarship, and then under his former treasurer, Paul Keating. While Australia also underwent deregulation and transformation, having this Labor government afforded some protection against the consequences of a doctrine that ‘has meant in short the financialization of everything’.4

(p.189) During a Program Review discussion in December 1976, the bi-national AAEF board agreed that ‘Although there appears to be no adequate way of quantifying the benefit to mutual understanding produced by the Fulbright scheme, the anecdotal evidence testifying to the worth of the Scheme was overwhelming’. This, for the board, was ‘persuasive’. Unfortunately, it appeared that a ‘lack of quantitative measures’ of these benefits of mutual understanding was ‘a factor in neither of the two governments being disposed to increase their cash allocation to offset the effects of inflation’. Looking back over the previous decade, they recorded that while the Foundation’s cash income had increased marginally, inflation effects meant that the real income had seen a ‘substantial decline’.5

In 1981, the bi-national board discussed how to get the most out of a reduced budget in this leaner, meaner era. Cutting the number of awards would be necessary, but the chair, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, Professor Don George, argued that an exchange program ‘did not have to be big to be good’. Another review meeting was planned, ‘to draw out ways in which the benefit derived from the funds that are received, might be maximized’ in the Australian program.6

Funding worries were accompanied by changed programming requirements, delivered to the Commission by a newly formed US agency, known as the US Information and Communications Agency (USICA).7 These caused consternation for the executive officer, Bruce Farrer, who believed that the draft of a new procedures manual, supposed to replace the 1964 guidelines, ‘appeared to offend against the spirit and intent of the binational agreement and to cut across the degree of autonomy which the AAEF has always been assumed to have by virtue of the agreement’.8 Adding to the stress of this time was the Australian government’s 1983/84 budget allocation for the program, which remained at the 1982/83 figure of $240,000. This was well below the US allocation of US$375,000 for the 1983 financial year, in a program that was intended to be cost-shared in equal amounts.

Dealing with uncertainty had ramifications in the AAEF office, with more frequent changes of executive officers than had previously been experienced. In late 1984 Ian Hossack was appointed to replace Bruce Farrer who had given notice the previous year. During a brief transitional period, the AAEF had its first woman executive officer, when Noeline Milson was acting executive officer for two weeks in January 1985. Ian Hossack was at the helm until March 1987, when he was replaced by Charles Beltz. The position had been renamed ‘executive director’ in November 1986.9 This terminology change most likely reflected the fact that the Fulbright Foundation was a non-profit organisation, whereas the term executive officer was usually used to designate the leader of a for -profit organisation. While the reasons for the name change were not discussed in the board minutes, it is telling in a period when government and (new) non-government sources of funding for the program would become a hot topic and reminds us of earlier nomenclature battles.

Change was here to stay. In late October 1987, stock markets crashed around the world. The Australian All Ordinaries Index fell 25 per cent in one day, and nearly 42 per cent by the end of the month, while in the United States, the Dow Jones dropped 21.63 per cent. Headlines screamed ‘crisis’. At 8.50 a.m. on that drizzly 20 October, a day that would come to be known as ‘Black Tuesday’ in Australia, and ‘Black Monday’ (p.190) in the United States, the AAEF board met in Canberra. There is no mention in the minutes of the catastrophic situation in the global markets, even though news must surely have reached the directors by lunchtime. But they did discuss in detail a major new Fulbright development – one that would bring the program into much closer alignment with the corporate world so powerfully hit by neo-liberalism and now the stock market crash.

The demise of the public university

1987 was a landmark year in Australian higher education history. That year John Dawkins, minister for Education, Employment and Training in Hawke’s Labor government, released a discussion paper that, when implemented as policy, would transform the tertiary sector. It heralded another big expansion, just as the Murray Report had done exactly thirty years earlier, but the principles of funding conceived ‘in the climate of continuing financial restraint’ were fundamentally different, ‘requir[ing] close attention to the efficient use of resources’.10 A new era of mass education and reduced government expenditure had begun. There were implications in these changes for the Australian Fulbright Program. Most notably, after some fifteen years of free tertiary education, the introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS), by which students repaid the cost of their education, along with the imposition of full, up-front fees for international students, threatened to reduce the American program significantly if waivers could not be arranged. There were also implications for administering the scheme.

In the same year as Dawkins’ White Paper, 1987, the AAEF board held a retreat during which it re-assessed the Fulbright Program from every angle. One important policy change arising from this retreat was that the American program would no longer be shaped around university recommendations. Instead, the American competition for awards would now resemble the Australian one and be ‘open’ to all fields. There would still be some suggestive prioritisation of research areas, but these would apply equally to Australian candidates, and would be determined not in response to university proposals but by the board, whose members intended to ‘take a greater initiating role’ in shaping the program. The board framed this new policy as ‘opening the way for American applicants across the whole spectrum of academic, professional and artistic endeavours to apply with a chance of success’. It considered that this ‘would be warmly received by the USIA and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) in Washington who had been concerned about the shape of this particular program’.11

Indeed, one of the USIA concerns, to which the board was responding with this new policy, had been that procedures in earlier years of having universities ‘suggest’ names for US awards had enabled the program to be run somewhat like ‘an “old boys” support system’.12 The board now had two women directors: Jacqueline Hochmann (appointed February 1985) and Susan Dorsch (from January 1987), joined by Susan Ryan in 1990. As we saw in the previous chapter, it was under their watch that important changes in selection policies were implemented. There had been some improvement (p.191) in the 1980s in the proportion of women receiving awards (22 per cent of awards compared to a shameful 9 per cent in the 1970s). The 1990s would see a jump to 38 per cent, evidence of the influence that having a better gender balance on the board of directors could make to gender parity in scholarships.13

In the wake of the Dawkins reforms, other changes followed in 1988-90. The following priorities guided selections of both American and Australian scholars: (1) International Trade Issues; (2) Pacific Basin (or Rim) Issues; (3) Developments in Higher Education Policies; and (4) the Impact of New Technologies and Reseach & Development (R& D).14 This was a highly concentrated focus, significant in its regional emphasis and for its third priority, which was clearly a direct response to the radical changes in Australian higher education then underway.15

A sting in the tail?

At the ‘Black Monday’ October 1987 AAEF board meeting, David Buckingham, the Commonwealth Department of Education’s representative on the Fulbright board, announced to his colleagues that the Australian government had agreed to a 50 per cent increase in its annual contribution to the exchange program. This news was very welcome, as the Fulbright funding situation had reached a state of crisis, or, at the very least, embarrassment on the Australian side. Since the early 1980s, the Australian contribution to the exchange program, though maintained at the same dollar amount, had dropped well below the United States’ contribution in real terms, so that by 1987, it sat at 28.1 per cent compared to 58.4 per cent of total bi-national program funding in 1976. This was a neat reversal of the situation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when US congressional budget cuts had meant there was a disparity for some years, during which the Australians contributed more to the program than their partners. The Gorton L-NP government in 1968 had kept up its contribution at this time, predicting (correctly, as it turned out) that should circumstances change, they might one day have to rely on the Americans to do the same for them.

The increasingly stark funding imbalance of the mid-1980s had led to concerted lobbying of government by Fulbright administrators and board members, so the October 1987 funding decision was gratifying. There was an important catch, though. The Foundation would be required to match the additional funds, to the tune of $AUD 120,000 a year, for the next three years. This would entail a significant cultural shift for the Foundation’s staff and board members, one that reflected the increasing marketisation of the higher education sector over this period.16

Until this point, ‘private’ or non-governmental contribution to the exchange program in Australia had been minimal. Academic volunteers contributed in a range of important ways, such as sitting on selection committees or hosting scholars. Funding did not rely on non-government cash sources such as philanthropic or corporate donations. The situation was different in the United States, where universities and philanthropic or privately funded educational organisations had been involved (p.192) from the beginning, in either administering or contributing financially to Fulbright awards. For example, for the first six months of the program’s life, the Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation had funded the IIE and Conference Board of Associated Research Councils to administer the awards until congressional funding for the exchange could be secured.17 Also, many US universities offered scholarships, fellowships and fee waivers to foreign Fulbright scholars who were only eligible for travel grants in their own (non-US) currency under the Fulbright scheme. In contrast, as explained previously, in partner countries like Australia, Americans who won Fulbright awards received a maintenance allowance as well as travel costs as part of their award, making up for the lack of private sources of funding in Australian universities.

Indeed, at the US end, proponents of the Fulbright Program, from its earliest days, had touted it as a particularly successful example of ‘private’– public cooperation. The program could not survive without non-government contributions, given Congress was not in the habit of funding education, but this private–public claim also worked on an ideological level. In the Cold War climate, significant private support was seen as evidence of the health of US-style free enterprise and civic responsibility, versus a Soviet-style command economy and ideological stranglehold on education. Ideally, this robust private interest in educational exchange should protect the program from partisan political pressures. In practice, not a few philanthropic foundations were closely linked to highly politicised anti-Communist funding exercises, some of them covert.18

So while the culture of philanthropic and corporate support for educational exchange was much more powerfully rooted in the US discourse around Fulbright (and education in general), in Australia the scheme was seen as essentially government-initiated and funded, and there was no established tradition of seeking funding for awards from non-government sources – until 1987.

There is no evidence in the archives of a concerted push from the American end for the Australian government’s new funds-matching requirement. Indeed, Australia was the first ever Fulbright partner country to require this of its bi-national Foundation, and it appears that American program administrators may have been surprised by the decision. However, this significant shift in funding policy does reflect the broader political and economic picture in which Reagan (and the UK Thatcher) governments played a key role in reshaping higher education along business models.

The mid-1980s was a period when the United States, United Kingdom and Australia were all recalibrating their education policies according to prevailing deregulatory economic orthodoxies. In July 1987, the Hawke government created a new super ministry, bringing together Education, Employment and Training, with John Dawkins as minister. In the context of the ‘Dawkins Revolution’ that followed, the new Fulbright funding arrangements made perfect sense. Dawkins’ mission was to push (among other things), the development of links between universities and business, and a user-pays principle in higher education funding, both for domestic students (in the form of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme) and for foreign students.19

(p.193) So, in the late 1980s, not only did AAEF staff in Australia have to master the art of fundraising, they also had to deal with other aspects of the Dawkins reforms, including the introduction of full fees for overseas students in Australian universities, which affected their program directly. In a curious twist, Dawkins’ predecessor as minister for Education, Senator Susan Ryan, who had campaigned unsuccessfully against the re-introduction of university fees, resigned from the Senate in December 1987, and joined the Fulbright board three years later, when the board was grappling with the effects of her successor’s policies.

In order to raise the significant sums required by the new agreement, the Foundation realised it needed to secure tax deductibility status, but this proved a more difficult task than expected, and despite repeated applications and entreaties, the Commonwealth Tax Office only granted them tax deductibility in 2003.20 In the meantime, the AAEF sought other ways of enabling sponsors to make tax-deductible donations to the program. Two years after the new government funds-matching requirement was announced, Executive Director Charles Beltz reported to the board on an arrangement made with the ANU. The university had agreed to operate a ‘Fulbright Scholarship Fund’ along similar lines to the Sir Gordon Menzies Scholarship Fund (created for the Harvard Club) and the Cambridge Commonwealth Fellowships Trust. The ANU would pass on to the Foundation any donations made to this Fulbright Scholarship Fund. In return, the Foundation agreed to have two ANU representatives sit on Fulbright selection committees. This was a pragmatic decision, but board members expressed some concern about relying on what was essentially a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, for the ANU would retain legal control of the Scholarship Fund, even if the Foundation operated it ‘in practice’.21

Early in 1992, board members noted that the newly created Australian Centre for American Studies at the University of Sydney had been given tax-exempt status, while the Foundation continued to rely on the ANU arrangement. Their continued appeals to the Tax Office were going nowhere, and the parliamentary secretary had advised the treasurer that there was ‘little prospect of AAEF being listed separately in the gift provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act’. So, deciding ‘not to make further entreaties’, they resolved to seek advice on ‘how to word a letter to potential corporate donors about the possibility of Fulbright contributions being classified as tax deductible on the basis of being legitimate business expenses which enhanced the public image of the company’.22 This was really an acknowledgement of what the new sponsorship policy, forced upon them by government, meant in practice: convincing possible funding partners of the publicity value of being associated with what would come to be known as the Fulbright ‘brand’. The language of marketing is now deeply embedded into the program’s functioning, in a way that would have been unthinkable to early administrators – just as it is in universities. It took another ten years before the Foundation could advise potential donors that it had tax-deductible status. It was a very long wait.23

There were other obstacles, too, to the initial fundraising efforts by the Foundation in 1987. Not only was the new funds-matching policy introduced at the very start of the financial crash, but it coincided with the lead-up to the Australian bicentennial (p.194) celebrations of 1988. This meant that every company and its dog was being asked for money. Added to this, some board members were unaccustomed to the actual act of fundraising. Chair of the board L. Roy Webb, vice-chancellor of Griffith University, an economist specialising in microeconomic reform and international education, ‘indicated that he did not feel very comfortable in the role of fundraiser which really required special skills and a significant allocation of time which was very difficult to accommodate in the heavy schedule of commitments in his official position in his university’. Fellow director Professor Susan Dorsch (see Figure 10.1), an immunologist and (at the time) pro-vice-chancellor of Sydney University, similarly ‘expressed strong reservations on her part about a role in fundraising’. She went further, declaring that she ‘did not see that as a valid responsibility for Board members whose primary task was to guide and direct the Fulbright Program’.24

In March 1988, the board minutes record a planned amendment to the Foundation by-laws, to allow an Australian business representative to take the place of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official who had been a director since the 1964 agreement came into force. Thus, the Australian members would now be: two academics, one Department of Education official, and one businessperson. Though little was made of this in the minutes, it was in fact a very telling shift. While an American businessman had sat on the Australian board since 1950, Australian directors had always been senior academics, public servants in Education or Foreign Affairs, or (in the first years at least) judges. Admitting an Australian representative

‘In the climate of continuing financial restraint’: Finding a sustainable future in the neo-liberal university

Figure 10.1 Professor Susan Dorsch, Chair of the Australian Fulbright board meeting President George Bush Sr, 1992

(p.195) of the corporate world at this time into the closely guarded Fulbright decision-making territory symbolised an opening up to business and non-government interests that reflected the broader, and quite revolutionary, changes to the educational world occurring in Australia at this time.

The first Australian business representative to be appointed to the board was Brian Finn, the Sydney-based managing director of IBM Australia. The fact that he led the Australian arm of a US company indicated the kind of business networks the Foundation hoped and expected to tap into. In the ensuing few months, the board held discussions about how the Foundation might improve its fundraising efforts. When Richard A. Ware, chair of the US BFS, visited the Foundation in November 1988 – the same month that Brian Finn joined the board – he suggested that they consider forming ‘an ancillary body to the Board specifically for fundraising’. The board decided to await the creation of the Alumni Association, which was then on the cards, for it believed the fundraising body could benefit from alumni involvement.25 Things moved slowly in the Fulbright world. A fundraising advisory committee was eventually formed, but not for another twelve years, in August 2000.26

One of the challenges for the Foundation was raising the program’s profile beyond the academic world. It was ‘not widely known in the private sector’, and the board believed that for fundraising to be successful a ‘good deal of “awareness-raising”’ was required.27 It also took some time to determine what was and wasn’t possible in this new money-seeking caper. In May 1990, the US ambassador expressed some concern about his role in relation to AAEF fundraising efforts. He had attended the previous meeting of the board at which he had expressed interest in the activities of the Foundation and a ‘willingness to assist’. Since then the Ambassador had expressed a certain ‘wariness’ at the proposal put to him during that board meeting. They had asked him to host a few functions for business leaders. The Ambassador had approached Washington for clarification about his expected role in public relations or fundraising activities.28 Three months later, the board received a welcome clarification of the ambassador’s possible role in fundraising activities. ‘Whilst he could not host fundraising functions or actively seek donations, he could act as a guest of honour at such functions. He had repeated his willingness to act in this latter capacity for the Foundation’.29

In these discussions around the creation of an Advisory Board for fundraising, in 2000, there was some debate over whether this body should instead be called a ‘Board of Trustees’, but this latter title ‘implied greater control and responsibility’ than they wished to confer, so they stuck with ‘Advisory Board’.30 This is reminiscent of the debates over wording at the very start of the program’s Australian life, when Department of External Affairs officers had difficulty stomaching the notion of a ‘Board of Directors’ rather than an ‘Advisory Committee’.

The board had to grapple with other big questions raised by the new funding arrangements, particularly regarding what kinds of companies or organisations should be approached (or not); what guidelines should be put in place to ensure the program’s continued scholarly integrity; and how alumni might contribute to this process. Establishing guidelines and monitoring award sponsorship thus became a very significant responsibility of the board, and one its members could not afford to get wrong.

(p.196) Building a culture of philanthropy

The board’s first real dilemma concerned processes for selection, and the extent to which the donor would be involved. One of the first non-government sponsors of an award was Mrs Ruth Whitford, the widow of a Tasmanian Fulbright scholar from the 1950s, Dr Richard L. Whitford. In March 1990, Mrs Whitford offered a ‘Memorial Endowment’ of $100,000, proposing that the Foundation invest the sum and its interest be used to fund graduate scholarships ‘in perpetuity’, in the form of supplements to Fulbright awards. Upon her death, the remainder of her estate would be added to the initial donation. Mrs Whitford proposed some specific eligibility requirements, giving preference to Tasmanian educators, namely:

giving first preference to qualified Tasmanians in the field of educational administration, second preference, if no Tasmanian was elected, for Fulbright applicants in educational administration from other states, and third preference to Tasmanian secondary teachers, preferably from schools involved in the School Mates scheme, applying for teacher exchange at the secondary level.31

Not only did Mrs Whitford give clear indications of her selection criteria, but she expressed a strong wish that the first scholarship be granted to her nominee, Mr Robert Eccleston, ‘so long as Mr Eccleston had “minimum qualifications” for a Fulbrighter’. This caused the board some anxiety, for its members ‘did not wish to set a precedent by side-stepping normal Fulbright Program selection procedures which were based on open competition’. The board also expressed concern that eligible candidates for the scholarship might not be found each year and thought that ‘further consideration should be given to possible alternate forms that the scholarship might take’. Just over a year later, the board came to a final agreement with Mrs Whitford, and Robert Eccleston was selected for the first award.32

Other early corporate sponsors included David O. Anderson, Robert Holmes à Court, Fulbright alumnus Harold Clough, the Salomon Bros, Time Australia, and an Alumni Association-initiated award named for early Fulbrighter and influential educator W.G. Walker. The problem the board had foreseen in discussing the Whitford scholarship – of a possible shortage of eligible applicants given restricted selection criteria – came to pass with the first David O. Anderson award, which in August 1992 had received a very small number of applicants.33 Unlike the other ‘standard’ Fulbright awards, which had no real restrictions as to research field or focus, the sponsored awards were generally in a named field and sometimes state-specific. Thus the pool of applicants was inevitably smaller. Given that the Fulbright Program prided itself on a rigorous nationwide selection process with academic record given first priority, this development posed something of an ethical challenge to selectors and board members. They had little choice but to make it work, however.

It was in this context of seeking opportunities for sponsored awards that a proposal for a targeted scholarship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was (p.197) introduced (as discussed in Chapter 9), probably on the initiative of Executive Director John Lake. The AAEF board discussed the proposal at some length and in general, as we know, supported it. Nevertheless the board did express concern that ‘the pool of eligible candidates may not be sufficient to enable an award to be made each year, that the Foundation might draw criticism if an expectation grew that this was an annual award and no award was made in particular year due to an inadequate pool of eligible applicants’.34 This problem would apply for any of the sponsored awards, and indicates the discomfort some board members felt with the new territory the AAEF was moving into.

Just as for the Whitford award, there were some vexing questions surrounding application and selection procedures for the ATSIC award.35 Attracting strong applicants was crucial. Working with a sponsoring partner threw up some new challenges for the Foundation. Hitherto AAEF had total control over the ‘messaging’ of the scheme. In May 1993 ATSIC had prepared a poster advertising the Postgraduate Student Award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. The Executive Director John Lake questioned the appropriateness of the poster. He was seriously concerned. He advised the board that ‘the poster had been funded by ATSIC and had been approved for production by Senior officers of the Commission’.36 The dilemma was the extent to which the AAEF could maintain real control of the management of an award that was funded primarily (or even solely) by an outside body with its own goals and ways of doing things.

Now that the ATSIC award was an actuality, another issue arose. A representative of the Koori people had approached the AAEF representative at the University of Melbourne, Jean Hagger, seeking involvement in the selection process. This, Lake said, ‘was not possible and the Executive Director would make the position clear’.37 Board members read the letter and endorsed his response. When the first applications for the new award were assessed in 1993 the board then noted with disappointment ‘the small number of applications for [both] the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander and the Journalism awards’. They agreed that in future, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be asked to help promote the ATSIC award.38 Subsequently, the numbers increased dramatically.

‘You are a Fulbright scholar’: cultivating the alumni

Funding challenges meant the development of alumni networks came to be seen as urgent through the 1990s and 2000s. This was in fact not a new realisation, for the board had encouraged the formation of alumni groups as early as 1956, and a group called the ‘Fulbrighters’ had formed in Melbourne in 1959, holding annual dinners for several years.39 In 1974 the BFS annual report noted that efforts had been made in the United States to create a database of American alumni of the Australian program, with the hope of engaging them in discussion about the program.40 But that seems to have been more about keeping in touch with others who had similar interests and experiences, a social networking opportunity rather than a fundraising exercise. It (p.198) appears that the early alumni association(s) must have lapsed, because in 1986, when responding to a USIA cable suggesting alternative sources of funding for Commissions worldwide, the board noted that ‘there is no such tradition here’. Still, the board agreed that ‘as a Fulbright Alumni Association is developed in Australia, alumni support for the Foundation should be encouraged’.41

After 1987, it was apparent to all those who had to take on the money-raising work that those with the greatest personal interest in the program’s fortunes were likely to be the people who had benefited from it in the past, many of whom were in positions of considerable power and influence, in both Town and Gown worlds. At this point the administrators realised there were great gaps in the archives. In the early 1970s, boxes and boxes of scholar files had been destroyed for the sake of freeing up office space (a historian’s nightmare). Fortunately, board minutes, which often included lists of scholars’ names, had been preserved. Some alumni, including nuclear physicist Dale Hebbard and geochemist Bill Compston, began to scour what records remained, to compile as complete a record as they could of all recipients of Fulbright awards since 1950, both Australian and American. This was published as the Directory of Fulbright scholars in 1990, an invaluable resource for our history project.

The Alumni Association has now been active for several years, with state chapters running their own networking and social events, welcoming incoming scholars, advising those about to depart for the United States, and sometimes supporting follow-up projects that have developed out of Fulbright partnerships. There are still many Fulbright alumni, though – indeed the majority – who choose not to join the association. There is still a reluctance amongst many Australians to identify themselves as alumni of a particular institution or program. This is an interesting cultural difference between the two countries, which, though it has lessened somewhat (and it is possible that the Fulbright Program has contributed to that lessening), continues to be significant, and is one of the obstacles to the Australian Commission’s efforts to build the Fulbright ‘brand’ locally. The term ‘brand’ is one that some (usually younger) alumni embrace – it was mentioned quite often in survey responses for this project, for example – but one that others would likely reject as superficial, for its particularly corporate resonance. Many of those interviewed for this project were not members of alumni associations, and yet they were keen to talk about their Fulbright experience, often in great detail. They simply did not choose to define themselves as Fulbright alumni above other aspects of their lives.

In the United States there is a much stronger culture of promoting one’s personal connection to educational institutions. In Australia, where reliance on government to fund education dies hard, the culture of alumni philanthropy has been much harder to build.42 While university graduates might feel a sense of connection to the institution where they studied, this has not, until recently, necessarily translated into a willingness to donate money. Contrast this with US universities, where it seems every building, courtyard, laboratory, library reading room or museum, is named after a donor who attended the university. As the funding cuts have bitten, we are seeing more of this in Australia, but it still feels to many like a cultural import rather than a homegrown phenomenon.43

(p.199) Executive Director John Lake, who was appointed in August 1991 and served until 1998, believed strongly that for the Foundation’s fundraising efforts to bear fruit, it was necessary to build the national profile of the exchange program. Up until this point, the Foundation staff had been working away in nondescript office spaces, moving every few years to cut costs. Since the early 1950s, they had worked out of rooms at the US Embassy, Canberra University College, a private house, and then Churchill House. In the early 1990s, when office rental rates increased again, Lake came to the conclusion that a focus for fundraising should be the building of a ‘Fulbright House’, which would accommodate the program staff, meeting and events rooms for scholars and alumni, and spaces which might be hired out to tenants to bring in much-needed income. Board members were not immediately sold on this idea, expressing concern ‘about taking on debt’ and that ‘real estate ventures would distract the Foundation from its main function of promoting educational exchange’. They also felt they ‘lacked expertise in real estate investment.’44 On the other hand, they understood that more alumni donations might be generated by such a project and could see how Fulbright House might benefit the Alumni Association and Fulbrighters in general. If a university were to grant some land for them to build on, the proposal was worth considering.45 A year later, the board’s directors expressed reservations ‘about Fulbright House diverting the Foundation from its fundamental purpose’. A lot of energy was being channelled into this project, at the expense of the core business of managing scholarships. At the same time, they acknowledged ‘that some years ago the Australian Government had imposed the condition that the increase in its grant should be matched by private fundraising and fundraising had been part of the Executive Director’s employment brief’.46 They felt they had little choice but to continue down the path laid out before them.

There is no doubt that the Australian higher education system was taking on elements of US-style user-pays principles, and the Dawkins revolution of the late 1980s threw up yet another (related) challenge to the Fulbright Program administrators. Overseas Student Charges, first flagged in 1980 under the Fraser government, came into effect in January 1989. The Foundation had to start seeking waivers from universities in 1988 – the same year it was first grappling with the new fund-matching requirements. It had to appeal to each university to cover the fee, and initially, twenty-three out of twenty-five universities agreed to this.47

An important development at this time for the Australian program was a move towards parity between Australian and US awards. That is, Australians would now receive a stipend where before they had only qualified for travel money and insurance. This was partly because opportunities for Australian students and scholars in the United States were not as bountiful as they had once been. This was probably due to a combination of financial belt-tightening by US institutions, and the explosion of international education, meaning much greater competition for existing scholarships and fellowships from students and scholars around the world.

The cutbacks took their toll on the number of Australians able to travel to the United States. From a high of 568 in the decade of the 1960s (cf. 501 in 1950s, and 515 in 1970s) numbers dropped dramatically (to 385) in the 1980s, and even further (p.200) to less than half the original numbers (240) in the 1990s, and were only 216 between 2000 and 2009. The commitment to the US–Australian relationship was, however, still the element of the Fulbright scheme which made it unique, and in the 1990s there was fresh resolve on the part of the board to emphasise this when making selections for awards. Fewer awards would be made but each would be of higher value which would help to maintain the prestige of the program. Efforts were also made to encourage visual and performing artists by insisting that state selection committees have at least one member from the arts. To attract younger applicants who were outstanding performers and considered to have great potential in their fields the name of the Senior Professional Award was changed to the Professional Award. The 1990s also saw the establishment of a system of awarding funds to assist a university to run a symposium to be called the Fulbright Symposium. The first year the scheme attracted a field of twenty applicants and saw the ANU awarded $10,000 for a symposium on the topic of ‘Managing international economic relations in the Pacific region in the 1990s’ which was held in 1991. The theme reflected the economic preoccupations of the previous decade. What followed did likewise.

The new century brought attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that deepened even further Australia’s diplomatic and military alliance with the United States. The subject of the 2004 Fulbright Symposium – ‘Civil-Military Cooperation and the War on Terror’ – indicates the new more militarised directions scholarship was to take in the twenty-first century. The symposium was hosted by the University of Queensland with guest speakers General Peter Cosgrove, Head of the Defence Force; Mick Keelty, Australian Federal Police Commissioner; Major General Michael G. Smith AO (retired), Director of Austcare; Graham Tupper, Executive Director of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid and Thomas Bruneau, Director of the Center for Civil-Military Relations, US Navy Postgraduate College, California.48

For that first decade of the next century Mark Darby was now the executive director. His appointment was announced in February 1999. Darby had a lot of experience in working with NGO managements and an academic career as a lecturer in leisure and tourism studies at University of Technology Sydney in the 1990s. He had also worked on engaging a younger cohort in international development programs in the Youth Ambassador scheme. He saw his first task as modernising the AAEF office. He recalled it was upstairs, ‘up a fire escape, no air conditioning … You couldn’t take anyone into the Fulbright office, it was embarrassing’, with its 1950s furniture and archaic filing system. This was a reflection of deeper problems needing attention. ‘The Not-For Profit infrastructure was not there, it was academics who had never run a Not For Profit.’ Darby saw a need to make changes. ‘This was a Board that spent nothing on marketing, who [metaphorically] bought a new kettle from the Goodwill, used plastic plates … You couldn’t raise corporate donations that way’, Darby believed. So ‘the Board took away one scholarship and put funds into corporate fundraising, hosting Fulbright dinners’. The US Embassy had given the Australian Fulbright Program funds of $500,000–600,000 to buy a building, and the AAEF had been sitting on it for three years, but with a new executive director ‘the Chair of the Board said our core business was scholarships not real estate, [instead] we will build an office that suits us’.

(p.201) Darby saw the problem as one of instilling the understanding of the Fulbright vision in the award recipients. ‘We pressed the Prime Minister [at that time John Howard] to write a personal letter to recipients, gave them a certificate … also had the US Ambassador hosting an end of year gathering.’ Darby’s goal ‘was about positioning the program …[things] had been ad hoc, but we decided to do things every year, as part of the program, to engage people, establish a Fulbright tradition … to provide support networks in America to bring them together, to feed off each other, to meet the Ambassador, to meet alumni, to know something about the history of the Fulbright Program’. It was under Darby’s watch that the Foundation was rebadged the ‘Australian-American Fulbright Commission’ (AAFC) in 2000. This was a deliberate revival of the name and history of the program’s founder, positioned in 21st century terms as a ‘brand’ that would help rebuild the profile of the scheme. As Darby says, he wanted to convey to those receiving their awards that it was something special: ‘you owe it to them and to yourselves to be the best you can, if you treat this as just another research grant then you are missing the point, this will change your career … you are not here by default … you’ve earnt it, you are no longer a postgraduate student, you are a Fulbright scholar, you need to think about this and what it means’.49

‘In the climate of continuing financial restraint’: Finding a sustainable future in the neo-liberal university

Figure 10.2 Dennis Altman signing a copy of his book The Homosexualization of America: The Americanization of the Homosexual in A Different Light Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA, c. 1982

(p.202) Those who were administering the program now recognised that keeping the Fulbright Program alive and relevant into the future meant adapting to the massive onslaught on the public sector from short-sighted neo-liberal policies. The Fulbright Program would ‘grimly retain its integrity, its transparent bi-nationalism and its structural protections at home and abroad’.50 But we must ask, at what cost?


(1) David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford, 2005), pp. 19–22.

(2) Harvey traces its ideological origins to 1947 and its implementation in US monetary policy to 1979, Neoliberalism, p. 23.

(4) Frank Bongiorno, The Eighties: The Decade That Transformed Australia (Melbourne, 2015); Harvey, Neoliberalism, p. 33.

(5) AAEF board minutes, 3 December 1976 Special meeting (Program Review).

(6) AAEF board minutes, 12 February 1981.

(7) In 1978, ‘USIA was combined with the Bureau of Educational Cultural Affairs of the Department of State into a new agency called the United States International Communications Agency (USICA). Use of the name United States Information Agency (USIA) was reinstituted in August 1982. The agency was abolished effective October 1, 1999. The non-broadcasting functions were folded into the Department of State and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) began operations as an independent agency reporting to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)’. From Overview of archives on U.S. Information Agency (RG 306), National Archives website, www.archives.gov/research/foreign-policy/related-records/rg-306.html(accessed 3 September 2017).

(8) AAEF board minutes, 28 October 1982.

(9) AAEF board minutes, 6 November 1986.

(10) John Dawkins, Higher Education: A Policy Discussion Paper, Canberra, AGPS, 1987, p. 1; for a full study of these reforms see Stuart Macintyre, Andre Brett ad Gwilym Croucher, No End of a Lesson: Australia’s Unified National System of Higher Education (Melbourne, 2017).

(11) AAEF board minutes, 2 March 1987, item 8.3: 1988 Program Proposal.

(12) AAEF board minutes, 10 November 1983, item 6.2 1984 Program.

(13) The percentages of women scholars are based on our database of Australian and American scholars, by decade and by gender. These figures may not be exact given that records of some scholars, particularly from before the 1970s, have been lost and only their first initial provided, so their gender could not be determined, however we believe the figures to be accurate enough to draw conclusions about fluctuations in gender parity over the decades.

(14) ‘Australian-American Educational Foundation (Fulbright Commission): Report 1988–1989’ (Canberra, 1990), p. 6.

(15) ‘Major Changes to Program’, The Fulbrighter, vol 1:1 (July 1987), p. 2.

(16) Margaret Thornton, ed., Through a Glass Darkly: The Social Sciences Look at the Neoliberal University (Canberra, 2014).

( (p.203) 17) Walter Johnson and Francis Colligan, The Fulbright Program: A History (Chicago, 1965), p. 38.

(18) Kenneth Osgood, ‘The Unconventional Cold War’ (review essay), in Journal of Cold War Studies Vol 4:2 (Spring 2002), pp. 85–107.

(19) Simon Marginson, Educating Australia: Government, Economy, and Citizen Since 1960 (Cambridge, 1997), p. 160.

(20) AAEF board minutes, 28 May 2003.

(21) AAEF board minutes, 7 March 1990.

(22) AAEF board minutes, 23 February 1992.

(23) AAEF board minutes, 23 May 2003.

(24) AAEF board minutes, 8 August 1988.

(25) AAEF board minutes, 28 November 1988.

(26) AAEF board minutes, 20 May 1997; AAEF, 22 August 2000.

(27) AAEF board minutes, 10 March 1989.

(28) AAEF board minutes, 21 May 1990.

(29) AAEF board minutes, 21 August 1990.

(30) AAEF board minutes, 22 August 2000.

(31) AAEF board minutes, 7 March 1990.

(32) AAEF board minutes, 21 May 1990.

(33) AAEF board minutes, 20 August 1992.

(34) AAEF, 20 August 1992, item 12; interview with Susan Dorsch by Diane Kirkby, Sydney September 2017.

(35) AAEF board minutes, 23 November 1992 Item 17. Fulbright Award For Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islanders.

(36) AAEF board minutes, 25 May 1993, Item 20. Other Business. Postgraduate Student Award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Poster.

(37) AAEF board minutes, 24 August 1993, Item 5. DIRECTOR’S REPORT.

(38) AAEF, 23 November 1993, Item 13. Report on 1993/94 Australian Program and the Coral Sea Scholarship.

(39) USEF board minutes, 30 April 1956; 15 July 1959; 12 September 1961.

(40) BFS annual report, December 1974.

(41) AAEF board minutes, 6 November 1986.

(42) On the importance of Fulbright alumni in fundraising see Molly Battie, ‘Fulbright Women in the Global Intellectual Elite’ in Alessandro Brogi, Giles Scott-Smith and David J. Snyder, eds, The Legacy of J. William Fulbright: Policy, Power, and Ideology (Kentucky, 2019),[p. 3].

(43) Sue Cunningham, ‘The Rise in University Philanthropy in Australia’, Higher Ed.Ition, 16 December 2016, www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/Media-and-Events/HIGHER-ED-ITION/Articles/2016–2017/The-rise-of-university-philanthropy-in-Australia(accessed 3 September 2017).

(44) AAEF board minutes, 24 February 1992, p. 3.

(45) AAEF, 24 February 1992: ‘Members considered the possibility that more Alumni donations would be generated by such a project as it was envisaged that Fulbright House would directly benefit the Alumni Association (and Fulbrighters in general) by the provision of meeting rooms, office space and possibly some overnight accommodation.’.

(46) AAEF board minutes, 23 February 1993.

(p.204) (47) AAEF board minutes, 28 November 1988, 27 November 1989 and 27 November 1989.

(48) The Fulbrighter Australia, vol. 17:1 (March 2004), p. 2.

(49) Mark Darby, interview with Alice Garner, Washington DC, 2011. In possession of the authors. The renaming of the AAEF to the Australian-American Fulbright Commission was approved by the board on 22 August 2000.