With the advent of technology, the world is becomingincreasingly globalized and interdependent. Education has long been on theforefront of most international developmental and social agendas. However, itsrole in the diplomatic arena has not quite caught up. Educational diplomacy isan emerging approach to bring public and private stakeholders together indialogue, collaboration and negotiation, for various policy objectives. Comingunder the larger umbrella of public diplomacy, the role of education in thepolitical climate of today, cannot be stressed enough. We will be looking athow certain nations have used education as a tool to further their agendas inthe past, and the road ahead, for the discourse as a whole.
Mark Leonard refers to the concept of public diplomacy asbeing three-fold: to transmit information, to sell a positive image of acountry and to build long-term relationships that create an enablingenvironment for government policies. These can be done via dailycommunications, strategic communications and relationship-building (Leonard etal, 2002). Antonio F. De Lima Jr. views public diplomacy as a “response toenduring transformations of the world in which diplomacy operates, such as thegreater mobility of individuals caused by the evolution of transport andcommunication technologies; more access to education, which helped to create acritical mass of individuals that no longer passively accepts decisions thatare taken by governments; and the multitude of media channels and their growinginterest in reporting issues related to international relations” (De Lima,2007). While there is no set definition at present, most scholars can agreethat it is constantly evolving with the times. Public diplomacy in the past involved more emphasis on internationalbroadcasting, propaganda and information services – and indeed this was whatthe United States focused on during the Cold War period. Fast forward to thetwenty-first century and “military and economic measures, which are stillundeniably important, are not suitable to deal with the complexities of moderninternational relations” (Coombs, 1964).
There has since been a shift towardsmore long-term endeavours including international educational exchanges,language teaching abroad and other international cultural exchanges. The WorldEconomic Forum is a recognized platform for nations to convene and remembertheir commitments to education diplomacy and any progress made. It alsoprovides a platform for mobilizing diplomatic activities between state andnon-state actors. The Incheon Declaration for Education 2030 recommends thedevelopment of a global coordination mechanism that includes UNESCO and theGlobal Partnership for Education as key monitoring and implementation members.It will also involve developing sustainable partnerships at regional, national,and local levels to ensure countries are provided the necessary technicalcapacity and financial support.In examining the attitudes of international students invarious regions of the world, we can perhaps gain a better understanding of therole of educational diplomacy in political discourse. Scholars Han, Chen andFang discuss the perspectives of Chinese students in the United States.
On thewhole, they seem to have a “mostly favourable attitude towards America andremain positive towards China” (Han et al, 2013). Since the reform policy ofthe 1970s, many Chinese students have chosen to pursue their studies abroad andthe numbers will rise due to the “Chinese and US governments’ common encouragementof people-to-people exchanges between the two nations” (Ibid). This is amutually beneficial situation in that students who stay in America become’bridge-builders’ in China-US relations and those who return to China becomeelites capable of influencing Chinese politics. In this case, student migrationis believed to be circular, where they eventually return home to help theircountry develop. Akerland discusses the Swedish State Scholarship Programmeand concluded that changes in the programme were related to major shifts inSwedish foreign policy.
The system was established initially as a means to makethe country known abroad. Its reach was very limited during the second worldwar but there was constant expansion between the period immediately after thewar and during the Cold War. There was also a move from humanities to naturalsciences. “International exchange programmes are impossible to conceptualiseapart from modern day foreign policy. Especially during the Cold War, they werean important part of a state’s soft power, financed through state grants andrun jointly by Ministries for Foreign Affairs and semi-state public diplomacyinstitutions” (Akerland, 2014). Derelkowska-Misiuna discusses the Erasmus Programme;”reasons it was established were presented as political.
Erasmus was designedas a tool of strengthening the ties between the countries of the EuropeanCommunities. It was supposed to help foster European identity, balance thedisparities between levels of teaching, pool educational resources andencourage the convergence of structures, and finally to increase the quality ofhigher education in Europe” (Derelkowska-Misiuna, 2017). We now take a look at the Fulbright Exchange Programme, acommon case study in American public diplomacy. It was created in 1946 – post-WWIIAmerica was interested in legitimising and consolidating its role as the newhegemony of the world, as it was discovered that despite being respected forits might, the country was rarely admired by its allies. The programme especiallygained a strategic political role in the wake of the Cold War, as a tool forpropaganda. The United States then decreased most of public diplomacy after theend of the Cold War, and only redoubled efforts after 9/11. “Since 2001 someimportant actions have already been taken by the Fulbright Board as an attemptto ameliorate American image in Muslim societies as well as in other countries”(De Lima, 2007).
Many questions were raised by American policymakers.”Misconceptions about the US and its way of life and, therefore, bringingunderstanding about American culture became a diplomatic objective of highpriority (Finn, 2003).Keeping in mind the respective historical positions, itshould only be fair that we examine Russia’s view on the matter. The nationsees education export as “an instrument to be employed in public diplomacy andthus as a means to contribute to soft power” (Makinen, 2013). Makinen alsobelieves that Russia’s plans to “re-gain its position as an education exporterare connected with the goal of the Russian leadership to revive its great powerposition, to diversify its greatness” (Ibid). Concept 2010 is a documentoutlining steps Russia must take to improve educational diplomacy.
“Thedocument arrives at the conclusion that, not only does this situation – notbeing an attractive enough provider of education – translate into a loss ofeconomic revenue, it also means that Russia has lost political opportunitiesand its influence in the “international arena”” (Makinen, 2016). Then PrimeMinister Medvedev “justified the importance of attracting internationalstudents to Russia in terms of the creation of a life-long tie with Russia.Former students act as “guides to our culture, to our language,” and inaddition, many of those, having studied in Russia, make up the “politicalintellectual elite of their own countries and are interested in strengtheningrelations with Russia”” (Medvedev, 2012). Although education has an “important role to play in publicdiplomacy, particularly because face-to-face contact between nationals ofdifferent countries helps to diminish stereotypes and ultimately facilitatesinter-cultural communication”, we must nevertheless, acknowledge the drawbacksto using such an approach as well (De Lima, 2007). First and foremost, we mustunderstand that while a country may have its foreign policy perfectlycommunicated to and understood by foreign publics and governments, it does notnecessarily imply that such policies will be accepted.
Approval of foreignpolicy is more related to compatibility of political interests, rather thancultural sympathy or affinity (Ibid). We also have to address the issue of apotential brain drain – when students choose to stay in host countriesindefinitely, instead of returning home – that could happen. Governments haveto remember that “students need some incentives to return to their homecountries after their stay, job security being the most important”(Derelkowska-Misiuna, 2017).
With regard to Middle Eastern politics, it is veryimportant to consider that, the efficacy of educational diplomacy may bereduced when American hard foreign policy still exists in Arab countries. Overall however, the approach has worked relatively favourablyfor many nations. “According to social learning theory, overseas experience canpotentially change an individual’s political attitudes” and even promote”positive perceptions of the host culture” (Han et al, 2013). Transnationalconnections help both nations build mutual trust and consolidate theirbilateral relationship. By achieving the right balance between hard power andpublic diplomacy – with education as atool in particular – countries have much to gain in terms of being understoodin the global political arena.