From Past to Present - The Fulbright Program in Finland

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

In the aftermath of World War II, in 1945, Senator J. William Fulbright 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.

Finland’s Special Place in the Fulbright Program Story

Finland was one of the first nations to be offered the opportunity to join the Fulbright Program in 1947. At that time, however, Finland was re-establishing relations with the Soviet Union after the war. During the early days of the Cold War 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.

The ASLA Program (Amerikan Suomen Lainan Apurahat, Finnish for "Grants from the American Loan to Finland") was created to pioneer Finnish-American academic exchanges. 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.

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 passed by the Congress in 1949. This law created the ASLA Program.

Finland sent out the first ASLA grantees in 1950. Finnish students and scholars gained access to educational resources not available at that time in Finland.

Joining the Worldwide Fulbright Program

In 1952, Finland entered into an executive agreement to conduct academic exchanges within the Fulbright Program administered by a binational commission in Helsinki. A binational commission was established in the same year for program administration in Finland.

Finland welcomed the first American Fulbright grantees in 1953. In its early stages, the Fulbright Agreement applied exclusively to American grantees in Finland. Scholarships for Finnish citizens in the United States continued to be funded by the ASLA Program.

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.

ASLA-Fulbright Program Opens the Door for International Influences

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.

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. Finnish President Urho Kekkonen and U.S. President Gerald Ford founded the Trust Fund 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 160 countries participating in the Fulbright Program.

Responding to a Demand for Information on Educational Opportunities in the U.S.

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. 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.

Fulbright Finland Foundation

Since the early 2000s, the organization started to develop significantly and finally reached a point where the change in its legal status to a Foundation was needed in order to enable the growth of Finnish-American academic and cultural exchanges even further in the future.
The Deed of the new Fulbright Finland Foundation was signed in May, 2016. This major milestone enabled the changing of the legal status of what had been known as the Fulbright Center from a commission to a foundation. The Fulbright Finland Foundation was officially registered as a not-for-profit foundation in Finland on October 3, 2016.