Fulbright Scholarship, Innovative Research and Citizen Diplomacy

Dr Md Iqbal Hossain

20 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

In 2009, I was in London with my family to study Theology with a small grant from Birkbeck College of central London. John Straw, my teacher at East London University, told me to apply for the CH Evening Scholarship. He also recommended me. But, the authority replied if I applied from my country, I would be considered for this scholarship. It is very difficult to lead a life in London with a family without a good scholarship. Time was running out in the swing of work and study. I went to Oxford University with my whole family on a summer holiday. Oxford University is the collective name of the colleges. It is a city of thirty-two Nobel laureates. Just imagining that seemed terrifying. It seems to be a city bursting with knowledge and innovation. After visiting all the famous colleges, while I was sitting on this bench, a Bengali person came and greeted me and said, "Brother, do you live in this city? A student of Oxford? I'm from America”. He was a teacher in a university college in West Bengal,India. He said he is studying at Cleveland, Ohio with the Fulbright Scholarship. He came to Britain to collect research data.

This was the first time I've heard about the Fulbright Scholarship. There was no random flow of information then. I did not have much opportunity to know. Due to studying at a university outside Dhaka, I did not get much information about scholarships from international universities. At that time, of course, Monbusho Scholarship of Japan was very popular in Bangladesh. However, it was only focused on the Faculty of Science and Business. In the same vein, South Korea and China are offering scholarships.America's presence in world politics lasts one hundred years. The difference between America and  other powers is that US policy can be discussed and criticised at home and abroad. Which neither China nor Russia does.  Britain, France, or Germany are similar to an extent. The Fulbright Scholarship in the United States is one such institution where leading researchers from around 160 countries are currently researching all branches of education. According to the Fulbright website, Senator J William Fulbright introduced the scholarship in 1946. The name of this scholarship is 'Fulbright' after his name. The scholarship, administered by the US State Department's Bureau of Cultural Affairs, is considered one of the largest educational scholarships in the world. Each year, 8,000 scholars are nominated for the Fulbright Scholarship. Among them, 1,600 US students, 1,200 US scholars, 4,000 foreign students, and 900 foreign scholars. The whole thing seems quite grand. According to the website, about four lakh scholars from all over the world have received scholarships so far. The world's leading researchers would be attracted to the scholarship because they provide all grants for the duration of the scholarship.

That's what J William Fulbright, a well-known American politician and a long-time chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee, set up such kind of scholarship. He knew many countries do not have enough funds and infrastructural support for higher research. It was a possibility and an opportunity. The senator, who was once a top student at the University of Arkansas, later a law faculty teacher, and in 1939 became the president of the same university for the shortest time in American history, took advantage of the opportunity to build a centre of excellence. He said in the inauguration lecture of the scholarship `The Fulbright Program's mission is 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.’

According to the information, among the beneficiaries of this scholarship are 88 Pulitzer, 65 MacArthur Fellows, 60 Nobel Laureates, 36 Heads of Governments around the world, 10 Senators, and one Secretary-General of the United Nations. Moreover, innumerable scientists, policymakers, academics, ministers and politicians are working all over the world. April 9, 2021 was the 75th anniversary of this successful program. Congratulations to its founders and all Fulbright Scholars. I have not personally applied for this scholarship, but I have had the opportunity to travel to various states in the US for another successful international program named International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP). I have met many fulbright scholars. I have seen almost all of them successful and happy. These scholars, who have been recruited from all over the world, are obliged to return home after completing their research under the terms of the scholarship. The door of knowledge is kept closed for many individuals on this planet. I always congratulate those who are trying to open their destiny by knocking on the closed door with the opportunity of information flow. To my knowledge, many Fulbright Scholars have continued to work efficiently in their workplaces in Bangladesh.

It is very unfortunate for the talented people of developing countries like Bangladesh that there is not enough opportunity for real researchers to get the required grant for education. Some research opportunities are swallowed up by bureaucrats. Nowadays, I see that the research budget is kept for bureaucrats. The University Grants Commission of Bangladesh (UGC) offers research scholarships for a very few university teachers. The condition of this fellowship was quite dire a few years ago. I used to get only four thousand takas per month as a PhD Fellow of UGC! The university has no funding for MPhil and PhD researchers. So, how accurately and logically will be researched without funding? As a result, the university is no longer a research centre, but a centre for political practice. Not only merit, but also party loyalty is now a measure of merit.

The position in India is much better than ours. On April 9, 1950, MaulanaAbulKalam Azad, the first Minister of Education of independent India, established Indian Council for Cultural Relation (ICCR).They are also celebrating the 72nd founding anniversary of the establishment. The activities of this organisation have expanded not only in the country, but also in the whole world. Many of my acquaintances and seniors have studied in India with this scholarship. Every year, they bring in about three thousand researchers from all over the world with scholarships. In addition to reading the text, the whole of India is well presented to them. These scholars have a lifelong positive outlook and this is reflected in their workplaces or various lectures. At the ICCR's head office in the Azad Bhawan in Delhi, I have seen many Arabic journals along with many language journals where leading Arab researchers have published their valuable articles and given important views on government policy.

The situation of the Muslim world is very depressed in this case. Except for Turkey, the situation and importance of Muslims are worse than that of Bhutan. I don't have any information at the moment about any significant scholarships, let alone a Turkish bursary or scholarship. The massive investment in education is undoubtedly a cardinal factor behind the rise of today's Turkey. In this case, Saudi Arabia is in the worst situation. Due to its oil economy, the country is at the centre of global discussions. If they wished, they could have played a leading role in the creation of skilled manpower following Fulbright’s values or any other of the big players in this domain. The greatness of Islam could also be spread all over the world through the service of education. But, with very low scholarships in some subjects of theology, some talented students from the Muslim world were trained to be agents of the monarchy. Except for a few, everyone is busy spreading sedition in society.

In Bengal, people were talking about the Mohsin Fund. Mohsin Fund is a fund introduced in 1808 by Haji Muhammad Mohsin, a resident of Hughli. Mohsin was the zamindar of Syedpur. His zamindari was spread over Khulna and Jessore districts. He set up many anchorages during the famine of 1769-70 and donated money to the government's famine fund. He was then declared a philanthropist by the government. He established the Mohsinwaqf fund with all his resources. From this fund, a lot of social welfare work was done. The highway we use when we go to Benapole was built by Mohsin Fund. This hugely motivated fund came to a standstill after the death of Haji Mohsin. At present, some activities are conducted under the West Bengal Minority Department. No other giant has come to take the nation forward in this way. At that time, many zamindars of Hindu society personally came forward to establish scholarships and institutions for the expansion of education. After they departed from this world, most of these public works came to a standstill. Apart from a few private initiatives for the development of education, no other large-scale initiative is eye-catchingly visible. The only way to make today's independent Bangladesh stand tall in the world is to expand research and education acquired by the nation and institutional initiatives of many scholarships. Many are taking action according to their ability, but the government will have to take much bigger initiatives for institutionalisation. It should be kept in mind that if we can present a grand Bangladesh to local and foreign scholars through scholarships, they will hold a higher regard for the people and the nation at large.


The writer is a Professor, Islamic University, Kushtia. E-mail: [email protected]