1. Memorandum From Thomas C. Sorensen of the United States Information Agency to the Special Counsel to the President-Elect (Sorensen)1


  • Educational Exchange

The long-range purpose of the Educational Exchange Program of the State Department is to contribute to the raising of intellectual and educational levels everywhere so that our way of life can be assured survival. Short range, it resists Communist appeals by building into other countries a broadly knowledgeable leadership class. Another short range effect is to raise the technical competence in underdeveloped countries. It also makes Americans more sophisticated about the world and our problems in it.

This program differs in interest and in kind from the technical assistance and educational assistance programs of ICA which are specifically designed to contribute to economic development. But as illiterate countries come into being, as in Africa, massive ICA assistance is put into general education and educational institutions. This movement of ICA into the purely educational field has blurred the original clear difference between the two programs.

The comparatively modest size of the State Department’s program is misleading. It is highly selective. It is apportioned by countries according to political judgments. It is carefully programmed. Its balance between immediate and ultimate objectives is calculated. It combines U.S. dollars, foreign currencies and private contributions, thus making [Page 2] up a pattern of complicated cooperative grants. It also stimulates and services a variety of non-government exchanges.

The Department does as little as possible itself but contracts student placement, programming of foreign visits, examinations, etc., to private institutions. Its relationships with contractors are generally good, but Government accounting practices are an irritation and some of the contractors have become high-powered pressure groups with a vested interest in the status quo.

The principal advisory and cooperative groups assisting the program are the U.S. Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange (responding to the Smith-Mundt Act),2 the Board of Foreign Scholarships (Fulbright Act),3 the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils, and the Advisory Committee on the Arts. Their guidance is supplemented by called meetings of professional people.

The principal handicaps are:

  • 1. Rigidity in law (and interpretation of law).
  • 2. Chronic shortage of funds.
  • 3. Weak leadership, reflecting lack of real State Department interest in this arm of foreign policy. The geographical (political) bureaus of State know little and care less about the program.
  • 4. Impending shortage of U.S. educational resources for overseas activity, a reflection of lack of national attention to our educational establishment.

Senator Fulbright has conferred with Government and educational officials and has asked for suggestions for drafting new comprehensive legislation for the exchange program, addressed principally at point one above. There are now unnecessary built-in restrictions, due partly to legislative and appropriations language, that make it difficult to assure the foreigner an adequate experience in the U.S. The Bureau of the Budget recently added to these restrictions by putting foreign currencies for this program into the dollar appropriations process.

The program needs strong, convinced leadership.

The ideal position in the Government for the exchange program would be close to the State Department for policy guidance, but outside its administrative control, as in the Information Agency (USIA). The [Page 3] State Department’s administration is not equipped to handle contracts and complicated fiscal relationships with private institutions.

The educational exchange work of the State Department is closely akin to the cultural work of USIA. These programs could be brought together. If related to the State Department and operated together, they need administrative autonomy for efficiency.

The question of the relationship of the Department’s exchange program to ICA educational programs should be made clear. The appointment of a Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for inter-agency educational and cultural coordination did not achieve this purpose, since his role has not been accepted outside the State Department itself. This relationship with ICA is increasingly important because many of the new and expanding programs can be authorized either through economic aid or educational exchange depending upon the emphasis, funding source and operating responsibility intended.

The present level of the educational exchange program is $23.2 million in dollars and $19 million in foreign currencies. This is far short of requirements to meet needs and opportunities country by country. There should be a regular annual increase of hard dollar appropriations and a considerable immediate increase in foreign currency availability. Coupled with greater flexibility of use, this could begin to meet program needs and produce a better program, which is even more desirable than greater numbers. A freer use of excess foreign currencies is required to stabilize and improve present programs and for overseas expansion, particularly into new fields such as educational centers, regional universities and institutes.

Educational institutions abroad, created and supported by the United States and largely financed by foreign currencies owed the U.S., would vastly expand our influence and our objectives. They would help fill the educational vacuum the U.S.S.R. is trying to fill while it draws off potential free leadership into Soviet educational institutions. They need not be standard universities in all cases, but carefully designed to meet national and regional needs. This offers the best chance for expansion of our programs at low cost, and without over-burdening our own schools.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Pre-Presidential Papers, Transition Files—Task Force Reports, Task Force Reports 1960, Box 1073, Exchange of Persons. No classification marking. A piece of paper is taped over the date on the copy of the memorandum printed here.
  2. The U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (P.L. 80–402), which President Harry S Truman signed into law on January 27, 1948, commonly known as the Smith-Mundt Act after Senator H. Alexander Smith (R–New Jersey) and Representative Karl Mundt (R–South Dakota), established guidelines by which the United States conducted public diplomacy overseas.
  3. The Fulbright Act, P.L. 79–584, which Truman signed into law on August 1, 1946, mandated the establishment of an international exchange program.