From Past to Present - History of the Fulbright Program in Finland

More than 300,000 people have shared the Fulbright experience as students, scholars, teachers, and professionals.

Finnish Honorary Doctorates

Two Finnish universities have awarded Senator J. William Fulbright with an Honorary Doctorate.

The first Honorary Doctorate was awarded by the University of Helsinki on May 28, 1976.

16 years later, on April 9, 1992, he was conferred with the Degree of Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Tampere.

Those inrerested in Senator J. William Fulbright and the history of the Fulbright program may watch the documentary "Fulbright: The Man, the Mission & The Message."


Writings about the history of the Fulbright program:

Lebovic, Sam (2013): "From War Junk to Educational Exchange: The World War II Origins of the Fulbright Program and the Foundations of American Cultural Globalism" in Diplomatic History 37 (2), p. 280-312

The Fulbright Program in Finland

Learn about the Fulbright Program in Finland from the many voices of alumni, grantees, friends and leaders. Most of these Finnish Broadcasting Company's radio interviews were conducted in Finnish in 2017. (Yle Radio 1, September 25, 2017)

In 1945, Senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas introduced the ground-breaking legislation that created the Fulbright Program. A year later, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution investing the funds from military surplus sales into a worldwide network of cultural and academic exchanges. A new form of cooperation was introduced to a world that was trying to heal the wounds of war.

"The Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship," is how Senator Fulbright described the program that has made his name a global synonym for international goodwill and academic exchanges of uncompromised quality. He regarded the Program as the most significant achievement of his entire political career.

Even though the standards were set high from the very beginning, the Fulbright Program has exceeded all expectations. It is the most comprehensive network of international cooperation in the history of academic exchanges worldwide. More than 300,000 people have shared the Fulbright experience as students, scholars, teachers, and professionals. Through the ripple effect, the Program has touched millions more.

The Global Fulbright Program

Video: How It Works: Fulbright

The Fulbright Program is an academic exchange program that operates on a binational basis. Within this framework, more than 150 nations have entered into agreements on cultural exchange with the United States.

The Fulbright Program was instigated in the aftermath of World War II. As envisioned by Senator Fulbright, funding for the Program was provided by loans the United States had granted to nations purchasing military surplus left over from World War II. The loan repayments were directed to cultural, academic, and professional exchanges between the United States and the debtor countries.

The Fulbright Program had a modest start. The first binational agreements were concluded in 1947, and the first academic exchanges under the Fulbright Program took place in the same year. The United States took on 36 grantees and sent out 47 scholarship holders. But now, more than half a century later, modest is no longer a word that captures the essence of the Program. Today, over 8,000 grantees share the Fulbright experience every year.

The Fulbright Program also has value above and beyond educational exchanges. It is a worldwide network of individual stories, shared experiences and friendship beyond borders. And that is how Senator Fulbright intended it. He wanted the Program to touch people, to increase nor only knowledge, but also understanding.

The ASLA Program

Finland holds a special place in the history of the Fulbright Program. In Finland, the Program is known by the name ASLA-Fulbright. The four letters in the prefix illustrate the program history, which is unique within the Fulbright network of international exchanges. ASLA stands for Amerikan Suomen Lainan Apurahat, Finnish for "Grants from the American Loan to Finland".

In 1947, Finland had been one of the first nations to be offered the opportunity to join the Fulbright Program. At that time, however, Finland was in the process of re-establishing relations with the Soviet Union after the war. It was the early days of the Cold War, and an extensive agreement on educational cooperation with the United States might have been perceived as a threat at the other end of the political spectrum.

Thus, the ASLA Program was created to pioneer Finnish-American academic exchanges. As reflected in its name, the Program was funded by a loan that Finland had received from the United States after World War I, Finland went on to become the only country to meet its loan repayments regularly throughout the depression and the subsequent war. This won Finland enormous goodwill, as it became known as "the country that pays its debts", a nation that fulfills its responsibilities without reneging.

In recognition of this, the U.S. Congress decided to reinvest the loan repayments in academic exchanges, creating opportunities for Finnish citizens to study, train, and conduct research in the United States. The law on redirecting loan payments into educational exchanges was proposed to the Senate by Senator H. Alexander Smith from New Jersey and it was passed by the Congress in 1949. This law created the ASLA Program.

Professor Peitsa Mikola was in the first group of Finnish ASLA grantees to study in the U.S. in 1950-1951. He was a student from the University of Helsinki and attended University of Wisconsin, Madison. Here he is shown at the Wellesley pre-academic training program in 1950 (first row second from left).

Finland sent out the first ASLA grantees in 1950. The new program offered Finnish students and scholars access to educational resources not available at that time in their home country, burdened by war reparations. In this manner, academic exchanges with the United States contributed to the rebuilding of Finland after the war.

The man behind the ASLA Program is often forgotten. Even though Senator Smith had an important role in the process, it is David Hinshaw who can be cited as the father of the law that created the Program. Working together with Senator Smith, he had both the contacts and the conviction that were needed to create a new form of cooperation between the two nations.

Fulbright Center News 1/2002: Paying Debts: David Hinshaw's Role in the Birth of the ASLA-Fulbright Program (pdf)

The ASLA-Fulbright Program

In 1952, Finland entered into an executive agreement to conduct academic exchanges within the Fulbright Program. To fulfill the requirements set by the Fulbright Agreement, a binational commission was established in the same year for program administration in Finland. The Fulbright Program was coordinated by this new commission, the United States Educational Foundation.

Finland welcomed the first American Fulbright grantees in 1953. In its early stages, the Fulbright Agreement between Finland and the United States applied exclusively to American grantees in Finland. Scholarships for Finnish citizens to pursue studies and research in the United States continued to be funded by the ASLA Program. It was administered by the Finnish Committee on Study and Training in the United States, formerly a distributor of privately-funded American grants in Finland.

In 1961, the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act consolidated all earlier legislation on International exchanges. This was needed to ensure the continuation of the Fulbright Program, since the binational Fulbright agreements had originally been intended to last only the duration of the loan repayment and most of the military surplus loans had already been paid back.

The new legislation made the Fulbright Program an integral part of international exchanges in the United States and authorized program funding through appropriations from the U.S. Congress.

In Finland, the legislation marked a new era in educational exchanges. Although administered separately, the ASLA Program and the Fulbright Program had been coordinated through combined effort. They were now consolidated under a common name, the ASLA-Fulbright Program, creating a program entity that for Finland marked the breakthrough to international academic exchanges on a larger scale. The Program opened the door for international influences in Finnish higher education and society as a whole.

Through the ASLA-Fulbright Program, awards have been granted to more than 1,500 Americans and over 3,500 Finns, among them many of the current and future leaders in society, culture, science, and business life. Above all, the Program has offered an opportunity for personal and professional development that bears effect all through a lifetime.

Due to cutbacks in U.S. governmental appropriations for international exchanges in 1968, funding for the ASLA Program was extended to cover an increasing part of the Fulbright Program in Finland. At this situation, new sources of funding were needed to ensure the longevity of Finnish-American academic exchanges, as the loan which financed the ASLA Program would have been repaid in 1984.

To serve this purpose, the Finland-America Educational Trust Fund was established in 1976 as part of the Bicentennial celebration of the United States. Finland repaid all of the remaining World War I debt with interest in advance, The U.S. Government then placed the full amount in a binational trust fund in Finland to help finance the exchange program in perpetuity. The Trust Fund was founded by Finnish President Urho Kekkonen and U.S. President Gerald Ford in connection with the CSCE Conference in Helsinki. At the same time, the original cultural exchange agreement from 1952 was broadened to include contributions from the Finnish government to the Fulbright Program. This arrangement created a new financial base for the ASLA-Fulbright Program.

True to the original idea of the Fulbright Program, this funding arrangement is unrivaled within the worldwide network of academic exchanges. It was also held in high regard by Senator Fulbright, a great friend of Finland and "the courageous Finns", as he put it. During his first visit to Finland, he thanked the nation for giving the Program great prestige. In relation to population, the Trust Fund has made it possible for Finland to maintain exchange levels that rank among the highest within the 155 countries participating in the Fulbright Program.

The Fulbright Center

Although combined under a common name, the ASLA Program and the Fulbright Program administrations remained separate in Finland until the mid-1980s, when integrating the overlap became necessary. The Finland - U.S. Educational Exchange Commission (FUSEEC) was established in Helsinki in 1985 by incorporating the Finnish Committee on Study and Training in the United States into the United States Educational Foundation, the official Fulbright Commission in Finland. Following the establishment of the new binational commission, the ASLA and Fulbright Programs were officially consolidated in Finland in 1987.

The eighties marked a period of rapid internationalization in Finnish higher education. This resulted in an increased demand for information on educational opportunities in the United States, one of the most popular study abroad destinations. FUSEEC took on a new role as a distributor of information on educational opportunities, when educational advising services were transferred from the American Embassy to the newly created academic exchange organization. With the help of additional appropriations from the Finnish and American governments, FUSEEC created a new position for an educational adviser and set out to establish a reference library.

In 1996, FUSEEC moved to new premises in Helsinki provided by the Finland-America Educational Trust Fund. By this time, the number of annual clients had multiplied and the traditional field of expertise in academic exchanges had been supplemented by new programs and services. The new premises marked a more diverse range of advising and information services, and the introduction of a computer-based test center for academic admissions and professional licensure.

In 1997, the advising and information services, scholarship programs and academic placement services, and computer-based testing were integrated to create the Fulbright Center, a national resource center on study in North America. The new name reflects the new role: what was once an academic exchange commission for program administration has developed into an expert, comprehensive service organization.

Serving as the binational Fulbright Commission in Finland, the Fulbright Center in Helsinki is a nonprofit organization funded by the Finnish, American and Canadian governments, and the Finland-America Educational Trust Fund, the Fulbright Center offers reliable information and professional expert services on Finnish-American academic exchanges, and on educational opportunities in the United States and Canada. To ensure constant program development and the highest of standards in all services, the Fulbright Center cooperates with a wide network of experts and professionals in the field of international education on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1998, the scope of services was broadened even further, as the Fulbright Center, as the first Fulbright Commission in the world, concluded an agreement with the Canadian government on providing academic advising and expert services for those interested in educational opportunities in Canada.