Thursday, 17 February 2011

Number crunching

This week, I've been looking at the quantitative aspect of the Fulbright Program. Generally, I'm not a numbers person--it's a bit too dry and abstract, and making charts & tables isn't really my thing. But after weeks of working on the qualitative side (plugging away through 80+ Fulbrighter essays), it was a nice change of pace.

I'm looking for the strategic element of Fulbright--why we send who we send, how many we send, and where we send them. (That was about as clear as Donald Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns...) There are three main data sets that I'm merging: Fulbright U.S. students by destination country, Open Doors non-Fulbright study abroad U.S. students by destination country, and Pew Global Attitudes Project U.S. favorability ratings. And these are all going back to 1995 (the furthest back for all data sets, aka common denominator). I'm hoping that this will show some sort of strategic element...The difference between Fulbright and non-Fulbright destinations, or maybe it will show a lack of strategy (popular countries are popular for Fulbright and non-Fulbright, and they have favorable views of the U.S., too!). I'm not expecting to see drastically improved public opinion of the U.S. following increased numbers of Fulbrighters--public diplomacy is a long-term strategy, and we can't expect overnight results (i.e., within a decade). But maybe the favourability ratings will show something else about student numbers--like why students might choose to study in a friendlier country.

So far I have little analysis to present, but I'll update it next week. For now, here are a few observations:
1) Since 1995, the U.S. has sent 13-22 students every year to Canada. No offense to Canada, but in terms of 'mutual understanding', I don't think there's much work to be done there...we already understand each other (as it says on the Peace Arch between WA and B.C., we're 'children of a common mother').

2) In 2002-2003, the number of students going to Jordan jumped from 8 to 17. This also happens to be the year when U.S. favorability ratings in Jordan fell from 25% in 2002 to 1% in 2003. What are some possible explanations for this? Did the Iraq War both increase interest in the Middle East among U.S. students and inspire hatred of the U.S. in Jordan? Really interesting case!

3) The program to Russia started in 2000, almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union. Ever since, it's been one of the more popular destinations, sending 20-30 students per year. U.S. favorability ratings have improved, too--from 37% in 2000 to 57% in 2010. What took so long?

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