The treaty which established the Fulbright program in Australia was signed in Canberra on 26 November 1949, by the U.S. Ambassador to Australia, The Hon. Pete Jarman, and the Australian Minister for External Affairs, The Rt. Hon. Dr H.V. Evatt. This was the first official treaty between the two countries, predating the ANZUS treaty by nearly two years.
The Program was originally funded with an initial sum of U.S $5.8m, ‘representing U.S. Government credits acquired in Australia from the sale of surplus war materials’. This arrangement arose from the Lend-Lease Settlement Australia had signed in June 1946, agreeing on the terms of Australia’s reimbursement of the U.S. for wartime transfer of tools, property and capital equipment, and by the U.S. Congress’s passage of the Fulbright Act (an Amendment to the Surplus Property Act) on 1 August.
The Fulbright Act, named for Junior Senator for Arkansas, J. William Fulbright who initiated the bill, authorised the Secretary of State to ‘enter into an agreement with any foreign government for the use of currencies or credits for currencies […] acquired as a result of surplus property disposals for certain educational activities.’ This foreign currency requirement meant that all Program costs were paid for in Australian pounds until 1964, when Fulbright funding arrangements were changed.
The United States Educational Foundation was created in 1950 to administer the Australian program. The Foundation was based in Canberra, the national capital, and run by a small Australian secretariat, guided by a bi-national Board of directors. The Board’s inaugural meeting took place in February 1950, and the first Australian scholars departed for the United States later that year. American scholars began their exchange trips to Australia in 1951.
In the United States, the administration was less centralised than in Australia: a number of bodies worked together to administer the Fulbright Program. Overall, policy was determined by the newly established U.S. Board of Foreign Scholarships (now known as the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board), while the Department of State’s Educational and Cultural Affairs sections worked alongside privately-funded organisations including the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils, and the Council of International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) to program and manage exchanges across scholars’ different career stages.
From its beginnings, the Program facilitated the exchange of postgraduate students, research scholars and lecturers in every academic field, and, for the first four decades, schoolteachers as well.
The Program was reviewed in 1964 when the original ‘Lend-Lease’ funds ran out. A new agreement established the Australian-American Educational Foundation, with the program funded by both Governments. In 2003, an Exchange of Notes served to amend and update the 1964 agreement.
More recently, additional funding from corporate sponsors and private donations has helped to expand the program. See the full list of current sponsors and scholarships.
The Prime Minister of Australia and the U.S. Ambassador are the Honorary Co-Chairs of the Commission. Since its establishment, the Program has awarded scholarships to more than 5,000 Australians and Americans. A distinguished group of alumni plays an integral part of the Program’s rich history and ongoing professional network.
- Negotiation and establishment of the Australian-American Fulbright program (1946-1950)
- 1949-1964: Highlights from the first fifteen years
Explore our historical timeline of the Australian-U.S. Fulbright program, highlighting significant moments and stories from the last sixty-five years. This timeline was created by Dr Alice Garner, Consultant Historian for the Australian-American Fulbright Commission, and is one outcome of an Australian Research Council Linkage grant between the Commission, La Trobe University and the National Library of Australia.