The US Council for International Exchange of Scholars - Administering the Fulbright Program between Austria and the United States

bridges vol. 26, July 2010 / OpEds & Commentaries

By Andy Riess

cies_small.jpgThe Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), the scholar division of the Institute of International Education (IIE), is well known for its expertise and extensive experience in conducting international exchange programs for scholars and university administrators. For the past 60 years, CIES ( has administered the Fulbright Scholar Program, the United States flagship academic exchange effort, on behalf of the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

CIES was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1947 by four prestigious academic associations - the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and American Council on Education (ACE). Since 1996, CIES has been a division of the Institute of International Education (IIE), a nonprofit educational and cultural exchange organization established in 1919. The four academic societies (ACLS, NAS, SSRC, and ACE) that founded CIES continue to be represented on the CIES Advisory Board.

CIES maintains deep ties with the higher education community in the United States and abroad, including individual universities and colleges, major scholarly organizations, and academic associations. CIES also collaborates with a network of binational Fulbright Commissions in 50 countries and 90 US diplomatic posts around the world.


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CIES - Administering the Fulbright Program between Austria and the United States

It is difficult to think of Austria without immediately imagining chandeliers, music, wonderful food, and a sense of joy.  And for good reason.  Austria holds a unique place in Western culture, and for many has come to symbolize life at its most exuberant and satisfying.  As the Fulbright Program looks back over the 60 years of its Austrian connection, it is fitting that its recent anniversary celebration was held amidst the magnificence of the great hall of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, once the home of the University of Vienna and built in the mid-18th century. Linked by their interest in and enthusiasm for the Fulbright Program, hundreds of alumni, scholars, and governmental representatives came together to celebrate, surrounded by chandeliers, music, wonderful food, and a sense of joy.

But for all the glitter and pleasure of such moments, the Fulbright Program is so much more.  Begun in the period immediately after the end of World War II, it was initially financed using the proceeds from the sale of surplus war materiel - a modern day example of turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  From its inception by the then-freshman senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, the program has been dedicated to bridging national boundaries, linguistic differences, and cultural divisions.  Through the exchange of scholars and professionals, the Fulbright program has worked to satisfy a number of objectives.  Built on a foundation of sharing academic excellence in classrooms, archives, laboratories, governmental offices, and artistic venues, the program has brought together nearly 50,000 people since its 1947 inauguration. Over the years, it has grown to include as many as 150 country and regional programs and has retained the elasticity to respond to the challenges represented by changes in political systems, reforms of educational establishments, and the reconceptualization of academic disciplines.   

The Fulbright mandate, however, extends well beyond the classroom.  The Fulbright program is also intended to be a vehicle by which Americans broaden their understanding of the world and, reciprocally, citizens of other nations come to the United States to expand their horizons and experience America.  Never meant to support "academic tourism," most Fulbright grants are for relatively long periods, up to a full year.  The length is commensurate both with academic schedules and with the desire to allow sufficient time to develop a level of familiarity beyond that available to a casual visitor.

Fulbright is unique in that it fosters the growth of bilateral relationships between the governmental systems of the United States and other nations in the design and implementation of programs.  It exists to simultaneously fulfill the singular visions of individual grantees and their plans to teach, to conduct research, and to live and learn abroad. Fulbright scholars are ambassadors who represent their individual qualities, their home institutions, their academic disciplines, and their nations. The vision first voiced by Senator Fulbright continues to the present - that citizens often make the best ambassadors and that: "In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine."

The Fulbright Program in Austria

fulbright_logo1_small.jpg Austria became part of the Fulbright family on June 6, 1950, when the first Fulbright exchange agreement was signed in Washington, DC. This came nearly four years before the Austrian State Treaty was signed, making Austria whole again and ending the zones of occupation of the Allies.  Thus, Austria became the eighteenth country with a Fulbright program and was joined by India, Korea, Thailand, and Pakistan. Over the last six decades there has been a steady, impressive stream of scholars moving between Graz and Berkeley, Linz and San Diego, Klagenfurt and Minneapolis. As would be expected, Vienna has played a powerful role, both as the home to Austrian scholars and host to multiple Americans.

In examining only the last 10 years of the program, it is clear that Fulbright and Austria have continued the strong, healthy relationship initiated in 1950.  Building on the carefully constructed design by the commission, more than 130 Americans have been hosted in 35 different institutions. They have included major universities in Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Linz, Graz, and Klagenfurt.  Scholars have been placed in the Diplomatic Academy, the Institute for Human Sciences, the International Research Center for Cultural Studies, the Sigmund Freud Museum, and the General Hospital in Vienna.  Grants for Americans have represented a wide range of academic disciplines. Traditional fields such as music, art history, literature, and philosophy have been well represented. However, the fine arts and the humanities have not been represented to the exclusion of environmental sciences, physics, biology, and business administration. The Austrian Fulbright Program has welcomed scholars in all realms of academe.   

During the same decade, more than 70 Austrian scholars have given up their beloved mountains, lakes, and palaces to come to the United States. They also represent a wide spectrum of academic interests including, among others, art, medical sciences, religious studies, environmental science, philosophy, physics, music, economics, geography, and law. These grantees have found placements at Harvard, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, the University of Texas, the University of Minnesota, New York University, the University of Hawaii, and numerous others. They have conducted research, taught, explored the educational system, and experienced life in America.  

The work of six decades of Fulbrighters has brought the scholars themselves the benefits of travel and work. On a wider scale, they have enriched the institutions that hosted them.  Their contact with students and other scholars has provided the multiplier effect for which Fulbright is well known.  New academic relationships have been created. New research projects have been launched. Lifelong friendships have been founded, and two nations have been knitted together more closely by citizen ambassadors.  Senator Fulbright said: "International educational exchange is the most significant current project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point, we would hope, that nations can learn to live in peace."  The 60 years of exchange with Austria have worked toward that end.  No doubt Senator Fulbright would be proud and would not object to the additional benefits of chandeliers, music, wonderful food, and a sense of joy.

For more about the American Fulbright program, go to: .


The author, Andy Riess, is the assistant director of communication and outreach at CIES.