The United States wants to fund the world's brightest graduate students under a new program designed to dispel fears that the country has become inhospitable to foreigners since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.
The program, to be called the Fulbright Science Awards, takes the name of the prestigious intellectual exchange program between the United States and some 150 countries begun after World War II. But its 25 scholarships to foreign graduate students in science and engineering will break new ground for the Fulbrights: Students will be chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of experts in a global competition rather than through the traditional bilateral agreements, and they will be funded for longer than the typical 3 years.
"We wanted to send a clear signal that this country is intent on welcoming foreign talent, especially future scientific and technical leaders," explains Tom Farrell, deputy undersecretary of state. "What better way to do that than through our most important global brand name in international education, the Fulbright program?" Farrell said the scholarships are designed to support students "until the completion of their Ph.D., in partnership with their university."
The awards are part of a proposed spending boost for academic exchanges to be announced next month in the president's 2007 budget request to Congress. They were mentioned in passing at a 6 January meeting with university presidents at the State Department in which academic leaders stressed the need for the United States to send a message that its borders remain open to talented students from abroad.
That message may already be getting through. Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, dean of the graduate division at the University of California, Los Angeles, reports a double-digit increase this winter in foreign applications to UCLA graduate programs. "I've heard nobody say that their applications are down," says Debra Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, whose annual survey of enrollment trends at the nation's top research institutions reported a sharp drop in applications after 9/11. Stewart credits the State Department and individual institutions for helping reverse that decline, and she predicts that the science Fulbrights will reinforce the trend.