With social agendas. However, its role in the diplomatic

With the advent of technology, the world is becoming
increasingly globalized and interdependent. Education has long been on the
forefront of most international developmental and social agendas. However, its
role in the diplomatic arena has not quite caught up. Educational diplomacy is
an emerging approach to bring public and private stakeholders together in
dialogue, collaboration and negotiation, for various policy objectives. Coming
under the larger umbrella of public diplomacy, the role of education in the
political climate of today, cannot be stressed enough. We will be looking at
how certain nations have used education as a tool to further their agendas in
the past, and the road ahead, for the discourse as a whole.

Mark Leonard refers to the concept of public diplomacy as
being three-fold: to transmit information, to sell a positive image of a
country and to build long-term relationships that create an enabling
environment for government policies. These can be done via daily
communications, strategic communications and relationship-building (Leonard et
al, 2002). Antonio F. De Lima Jr. views public diplomacy as a “response to
enduring transformations of the world in which diplomacy operates, such as the
greater mobility of individuals caused by the evolution of transport and
communication technologies; more access to education, which helped to create a
critical mass of individuals that no longer passively accepts decisions that
are taken by governments; and the multitude of media channels and their growing
interest in reporting issues related to international relations” (De Lima,
2007). While there is no set definition at present, most scholars can agree
that it is constantly evolving with the times.

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Public diplomacy in the past involved more emphasis on international
broadcasting, propaganda and information services – and indeed this was what
the United States focused on during the Cold War period. Fast forward to the
twenty-first century and “military and economic measures, which are still
undeniably important, are not suitable to deal with the complexities of modern
international relations” (Coombs, 1964). There has since been a shift towards
more long-term endeavours including international educational exchanges,
language teaching abroad and other international cultural exchanges. The World
Economic Forum is a recognized platform for nations to convene and remember
their commitments to education diplomacy and any progress made. It also
provides a platform for mobilizing diplomatic activities between state and
non-state actors. The Incheon Declaration for Education 2030 recommends the
development of a global coordination mechanism that includes UNESCO and the
Global 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 technical
capacity and financial support.

In examining the attitudes of international students in
various regions of the world, we can perhaps gain a better understanding of the
role of educational diplomacy in political discourse. Scholars Han, Chen and
Fang discuss the perspectives of Chinese students in the United States. On the
whole, they seem to have a “mostly favourable attitude towards America and
remain positive towards China” (Han et al, 2013). Since the reform policy of
the 1970s, many Chinese students have chosen to pursue their studies abroad and
the numbers will rise due to the “Chinese and US governments’ common encouragement
of people-to-people exchanges between the two nations” (Ibid). This is a
mutually beneficial situation in that students who stay in America become
‘bridge-builders’ in China-US relations and those who return to China become
elites capable of influencing Chinese politics. In this case, student migration
is believed to be circular, where they eventually return home to help their
country develop.

Akerland discusses the Swedish State Scholarship Programme
and concluded that changes in the programme were related to major shifts in
Swedish foreign policy. The system was established initially as a means to make
the country known abroad. Its reach was very limited during the second world
war but there was constant expansion between the period immediately after the
war and during the Cold War. There was also a move from humanities to natural
sciences. “International exchange programmes are impossible to conceptualise
apart from modern day foreign policy. Especially during the Cold War, they were
an important part of a state’s soft power, financed through state grants and
run jointly by Ministries for Foreign Affairs and semi-state public diplomacy
institutions” (Akerland, 2014).

Derelkowska-Misiuna discusses the Erasmus Programme;
“reasons it was established were presented as political. Erasmus was designed
as a tool of strengthening the ties between the countries of the European
Communities. It was supposed to help foster European identity, balance the
disparities between levels of teaching, pool educational resources and
encourage the convergence of structures, and finally to increase the quality of
higher education in Europe” (Derelkowska-Misiuna, 2017).

We now take a look at the Fulbright Exchange Programme, a
common case study in American public diplomacy. It was created in 1946 – post-WWII
America was interested in legitimising and consolidating its role as the new
hegemony of the world, as it was discovered that despite being respected for
its might, the country was rarely admired by its allies. The programme especially
gained a strategic political role in the wake of the Cold War, as a tool for
propaganda. The United States then decreased most of public diplomacy after the
end of the Cold War, and only redoubled efforts after 9/11. “Since 2001 some
important actions have already been taken by the Fulbright Board as an attempt
to 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, bringing
understanding about American culture became a diplomatic objective of high
priority (Finn, 2003).

Keeping in mind the respective historical positions, it
should only be fair that we examine Russia’s view on the matter. The nation
sees education export as “an instrument to be employed in public diplomacy and
thus as a means to contribute to soft power” (Makinen, 2013). Makinen also
believes that Russia’s plans to “re-gain its position as an education exporter
are connected with the goal of the Russian leadership to revive its great power
position, to diversify its greatness” (Ibid). Concept 2010 is a document
outlining steps Russia must take to improve educational diplomacy. “The
document arrives at the conclusion that, not only does this situation – not
being an attractive enough provider of education – translate into a loss of
economic revenue, it also means that Russia has lost political opportunities
and its influence in the “international arena”” (Makinen, 2016). Then Prime
Minister Medvedev “justified the importance of attracting international
students 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 in
addition, many of those, having studied in Russia, make up the “political
intellectual elite of their own countries and are interested in strengthening
relations with Russia”” (Medvedev, 2012).

Although education has an “important role to play in public
diplomacy, particularly because face-to-face contact between nationals of
different countries helps to diminish stereotypes and ultimately facilitates
inter-cultural communication”, we must nevertheless, acknowledge the drawbacks
to using such an approach as well (De Lima, 2007). First and foremost, we must
understand that while a country may have its foreign policy perfectly
communicated to and understood by foreign publics and governments, it does not
necessarily imply that such policies will be accepted. Approval of foreign
policy is more related to compatibility of political interests, rather than
cultural sympathy or affinity (Ibid). We also have to address the issue of a
potential brain drain – when students choose to stay in host countries
indefinitely, instead of returning home – that could happen. Governments have
to remember that “students need some incentives to return to their home
countries after their stay, job security being the most important”
(Derelkowska-Misiuna, 2017). With regard to Middle Eastern politics, it is very
important to consider that, the efficacy of educational diplomacy may be
reduced when American hard foreign policy still exists in Arab countries.

Overall however, the approach has worked relatively favourably
for many nations. “According to social learning theory, overseas experience can
potentially change an individual’s political attitudes” and even promote
“positive perceptions of the host culture” (Han et al, 2013). Transnational
connections help both nations build mutual trust and consolidate their
bilateral relationship. By achieving the right balance between hard power and
public diplomacy –  with education as a
tool in particular – countries have much to gain in terms of being understood
in the global political arena.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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