Nepali Times
USEF at 50


Professor Jim Fisher and Fulbright Scholar in Residence Dr. Navin Rai at Carleton College, 1987
One can imagine the scene, on a dusty pre-monsoon day in June 1961, in one of the ornate halls of Singha Darbar. Vishwa Bandhu Thapa, then Nepal's 33-year-old Minister of Education, received the American Ambassador, Henry Endicott Stebbins. No doubt there was diplomatic small talk and tea before they got down to business at hand – the signing of the Bilateral Agreement that established the Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States of America and Nepal.

2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Bilateral Agreement. Over the years, the Commission became better known as the United States Education Foundation in Nepal (USEF), or the Fulbright Commission. Funded by the US Congress, its stated mission is to promote "mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States of America and Nepal by a wider exchange of knowledge and professional talents through educational activities."

I recently met with former Education Minister Thapa at his home in Gairidhara. Still vigorous and engaged at 84, he had fond memories of the early 1960s, when Nepal had just begun to march upon the world stage. At the same time, the Government of Nepal also invited the American Peace Corps to start a program in Nepal. While at the UN, Thapa had witnessed the beginnings of John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign and had been impressed by his energy and vision. The establishment of USEF and the Peace Corps, Thapa told me, seemed to offer opportunities to both share that energy, and to open Nepal up to the world in new ways.

USEF Staff at Hanuman Dhoka 1975: L-R Haribol Thapa, Dipak Mathema, former Director Gabriel Campbell, S.B. Subba and Shyam Shrestha
The broad language of the Bilateral Agreement has spawned an impressive range of educational and exchange programs, which have benefited thousands of Nepalis and hundreds of Americans since 1961. USEF is best known for the two program areas that constitute the core of its mission in Nepal: US Government-funded scholarships and Educational Advising.

The scholarship programs include the flagship Fulbright and Humphrey Fellowship programs and the East-West Center programs of the University of Hawai'i, offered to Nepalis for the pursuit of post-graduate education, post-doctoral research, or teaching in the US. In recent years, USEF's scholarship study opportunities have been further expanded to allow Nepali students to pursue undergraduate study in the US through the PLUS and NESA UGRAD programs.

I served as Executive Director of USEF from 1998 to 2005. My favourite part of the job was contacting the Nepali students and scholars nominated by the Fulbright Commission board to inform them of their selection as Fulbright Scholars or Humphrey Fellows. Once I reached a young woman by phone who was so overcome by emotion at the news that she fainted. I thought the line had gone dead until her mother picked up the phone and asked me to call back later, after her daughter came to her senses.

Why are these programs considered so prestigious and what have they meant for Nepal? To win a Fulbright, Humphrey or East-West Center grant means that one has survived a rigorous, nationwide application process and entered an elite international group of students, scholars, journalists, artists and other professionals. Nepalis who apply for grants through USEF can be confident that the selection process will be strictly merit-based. Perhaps it is for this reason that some referred to USEF as the Asha Kendra. USEF scholarships provide a fully funded educational opportunity at the best American colleges and universities. What people choose to make of that opportunity is entirely up to them.

Graduates of USEF's PLUS scholarship program in 2010. L-R Moksheda Thapa, Raju Kandel, John Narayan Parajuli, Program Officer Ajaya Shrestha, Ramesh Deshar, Safala Shrestha and Nirmal Gyawali.
Taking all of USEF's scholarship programs together, it has funded US graduate study, research and teaching opportunities for approximately 650 Nepalis in more than 60 different academic disciplines. Over the last 50 years, almost all USEF grantees – approximately 90 per cent – have permanently returned to follow their professions in Nepal. A quick glance at a list of prominent Nepalis in any field of endeavour reveals hundreds of Fulbright Scholars, Humphrey and East-West Center Fellows whose opportunities for American study were launched at USEF.

USEF's second core activity – which has arguably had an even wider impact – is its Educational Advising Center (EAC). For 50 years now, the EAC has provided Nepali students with free, accurate and unbiased information on studying in the United States. Currently, at least 10,000 Nepali students use the EAC's resources annually. The EAC's library contains comprehensive resources to assist a student's search for US colleges and universities, scholarship information, as well as free Internet access. USEF is also the only test centre in Nepal for GRE, GED, and USMLE. Despite the proliferation of 'education consultancies' in Kathmandu, USEF remains the most objective and reliable source of information about educational opportunities in the US.

It is not surprising that the 11,333 Nepali students who are currently enrolled in US colleges and universities make up the eleventh largest group of international students in the US. These numbers attest not only to the quality of American higher education and the value Nepalis place on education, but also to the effectiveness of USEF Nepal in publicising that resource.

Fulbright and Nobel

The list of Fulbright scholars includes such American and international figures and leaders as Craig Barrett, former Chairman of the Board of Intel Corporation, Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University, John Atta Mills, former president of Ghana, and Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Foreign Policy. Fulbright artists, actors and writers include John Steinbeck, Aaron Copland, Chuck Close, John Lithgow and John Updike. Nobel laureates such as former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz and Muhammad Yunus, Bangladeshi economist and Grameen Bank founder were Fulbright scholars, too. In fact, more Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes – 43 so far, including two in 2010 – than those of any other academic program, making a Fulbright one of the most reliable 'predictors' of an eventual Nobel Prize.

Who's Fulbright?

Senator J. William Fulbright
In 1926, James William Fulbright graduated from the University of Arkansas and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University. Two years later, MA degree in hand, Fulbright returned to the US, determined to see that such educational opportunities be made more widely available. By 1944, he had been elected to the US Senate, where he served until 1974, becoming one of the most influential senators in US history. In 1946, the legislation he authored, now known as the Fulbright Program, established a new bilateral scholarship program. It drew strength from America's post-World War II commitment to engage constructively with the community of nations and from Senator Fulbright's long-held dream of creating a program that expanded upon the opportunities offered by the Rhodes Scholarship. Under the new program not only would more Americans have the chance to study abroad; it also enabled students from all over the world to study in the US. Senator Fulbright summed up the program that now bears his name this way: "The Fulbright program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship."

1. Lesson Master
"Over the last 50 years, almost all USEF grantees ' approximately 90 per cent ' have permanently returned to follow their professions in Nepal."

Where and how can one verify this claim?

2. ramesh shrestha

Going through the list of nominee for Fulbright scholarship, one can easily find out that the scholarships are provided to those that the USA can benefit. Go to the list, my argument are justified.

3. Chandra Gurung
American contribution to our education is commendable. We all need to appreciate USEF's contribution to our education.

Now, I hope Americans will invest our student's money in some of our universities. Okey, not the tuition fee, but, come on, at least, spend all those F-1 visa, their parent's visa fee in Nepal. You guys are master of charging people thousands of fees (application fee for visa? Then F-1 fee? Then  biometric fee? GRE fee? TOEFL fee? Application for admission fee? I almost missed my plane once because the embassy staff claimed that I hadn't paid some fee when I first applied because there was no such fee at the time. You must cut these myriads of fees, and nonsensical bureaucracy.) 

And for god's sake, make an embassy building that has some culturally appealing feature. That concrete edifice in Maharajgunj is pathetic. Have some Japanese garden, Nepalese Pagoda or something that is soothing,with all that money. I felt like I was going to a prison in Huntsville, TX, when I was interviewing with you guys.

4. Purusotam Basnet

There is record in Humboldt Foundation, Germany that  44 Humboldt fellows who got Nobel prize up to now. Therefore, Fulbright is not the first academic foundation to produce highest no of Nobel laurates.

5. Bal Bahadur Bal
Just like any other things that happened in Nepal, how many of these scholarships went to the proviledged people. For many of the ethnic groups that were marginalized by the regime of the day, it was a pie in the sky. Many of the scholarships were awarded to please the persons and personalities, rather than serving the true meaning of a "scholarship". I agree with Ramesh Shrestha's comments above. Such scholarships only widened the gap between the priviledged group and marginalized ethnic groups. I only hope that the awarding agency will be more careful in future to narrow the prevailing gap.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)