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The US government has issued its proposal for the budget of the overall 75 educational, professional and cultural exchange programmes of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), as The PIE News reports. According to the proposal, expenditure for the entirety of those programmes would drop from 731 million to 310 million USD. One of the flagship schemes, Fulbright, would lose 56 percent of its US funding. The Fulbright Programme has since its creation over 70 years ago been viewed as a pillar of US soft power and education and science diplomacy. It has enjoyed bipartisan support throughout its existence.
This sounds quite threatening. But seasoned followers tell us not to panic. The Trump Administration is not trying to cut Fulbright funding for the first time. And other presidents, of different party affiliation, such as Clinton and Obama, tried it too. In most cases, these attempts led to little change. For it is Congress, and not the Administration, which will decide over the final budget. The President’s budget proposal is but the very first step in a budget process running through congressional committees to the floor of each chamber (House of Representatives and Senate) and finally to a ‘reconciliation’ committee. In the past years, Congress has never accepted the Administration’s budget proposal and it has annulled most or all the cuts recommended. Strong pro-Fulbright lobbies will now start campaigning, like in all the years before. With their good links in both parties, they might well be successful again.
Another plan of the Administration might have better chances of becoming reality. The Administration’s budget proposal is complemented by the conclusion that many of the 75 programmes are small. The Administration appears to favour a smaller number of bigger programmes which would create economies of scale in programme administration.