Fulbright Austria > Facts and Figures > History


The Fulbright Idea

The Fulbright program is named after J. William Fulbright (1905-1995). Inspired by a Rhodes Scholarship that facilitated an extended period of study for him at Oxford University (1924-28) after he graduated from the University of Arkansas, Senator Fulbright was also motivated to create the program by his belief that the end of World War II and the creation of nuclear weapons had fundamentally changed the nature of international relations and made the potential consequences of international conflict graver and more global.

In his book The Arrogance of Power (1966), Fulbright observed: “The development of some perspective about man and his needs in different national environments is the principal purpose of such educational and cultural exchanges as the Fulbright program. No part of our foreign policy does more to make international relationshuman relations and to encourage attitudes of personal empathy, the rare and wonderful ability to perceive the world as others see it. Thus conceived, educational exchange is not a propaganda program designed to ‘improve the image’ of the United States, . . . but a program for the cultivation of perceptions and perspectives that transcend national boundaries. To put it another way, far from being a means of gaining some national advantage in the traditional game of international relations, international education purports to change the nature of the game, to civilize and humanize it in the nuclear age.”

The Legal Basis

The Fulbright program is based on legislation initially proposed and sponsored by U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright (Arkansas) in 1946. This legislation authorized the Secretary of State to use proceeds from the sale of surplus war property outside the United States after World War II to finance exchanges of students, teachers, and professors. After these funds where exhausted, the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, which consolidated various pieces of previous legislation pertaining the educational exchange programs funded by the U.S. government, provided a new basis for the program to promote “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange.” This act broadened the scope of the Fulbright Program, gave it new flexibility, provided for annual funding as a line item in the federal budget, and also gave other governments an opportunity to contribute toward the costs of the program.

The Austrian Fulbright program in a global context

Austria is one of the 51 countries worldwide in which the program is managed by an autonomous and binational Fulbright commission. The Republic of Austria and the United States of America concluded a bilateral agreement in 1950 that established the U.S. Educational Commission in Vienna, and the first Austrian-American exchanges under the auspices of the Fulbright Program took place during the 1951-52 academic year. After the Fulbright-Hays Act was passed in 1961, the Austrian and U.S. governments concluded a new Fulbright Agreement that established the Austrian-American Educational Commission (AAEC) in 1963.

The Fulbright Program currently facilitates the exchange of students and scholars between the United States and 155 countries. Since its inception in 1946, over 380,000 students, teachers, and scholars have participated in the Fulbright Program; over 2,600 U.S. citizens and 3,700 Austrian citizens are alumni of the Austrian-American program. Approximately 7,000 Fulbright grants are awarded annually on a global basis. Between 70 and 80 of these awards are managed by the Austrian-American Educational Commission.

For further information you may consult:

The Fulbright Program worldwide
(link to the U.S. Department of State)
or watch a short video presenting the historical and organizational aspects of the Fulbright Program on Vimeo.

Those interested in the history of the Fulbright program may watch the documentary "Fulbright: The Man, the Mission & The Message."


Celebrating 65!

Over 500 alumni, friends, and associates of the Austrian-American Fulbright Program celebrated its 65th anniversary on Thursday, November 19, 2015 in the MuseumsQuartier, one of the premier cultural venues of Vienna and the home of Fulbright Austria since 2007.  Dr. Christian Strasser, director of the MQ, opened the event by welcoming dignitaries and guests and commenting on the affinities between the MQ’s mission as a community of organizations involved in international artistic and cultural outreach and the mandate of the Fulbright Program as an international academic exchange program that is part of Q21: a group of 50 initiatives, organizations, agencies and editorial offices working in the cultural sector.  Dr. Lonnie Johnson, executive director of Fulbright Austria, reflected briefly on the history and the mission of the Fulbright Program and the importance of the network of institutions responsible for facilitating its programs before introducing the new corporate design of Fulbright Austria, its website relaunch, and its new tag, “Full of Bright Minds.” He underlined the importance of the Fulbright program as part of the flagship academic exchange program of the United States, the institutions hosted by the Museums Quartier, and the EducationUSA network.

Prof. Silvia Schultermandel had the task of reflecting upon the Fulbright Progran on behalf of its 6,000 alumni, and she did so from three different perspectives to illustrates how it touches institutions, careers, and lives.  She spoke as a representative of the Karl Franzens University in Graz, and she noted the impact of US Fulbright Scholars on the curriculum and the internationalization of the university throughout the decades, especially in her discipline of American Studies. As a recent program participant, she also reflected on the personal and professional impacts of her recent stay as a Fulbright scholar at Williams College.

Dr. Harald Mahrer, State Secretary from the Ministry of Science, Research and Economics, which generously co-funds the program, commented on the historical significance of the Fulbright Program for Austria and its paradigmatic importance for the internationalization of Austrian and European higher education. He also underlined that the Austrian Ministry of Finance recently had ruled that donations to Fulbright Austria as a non-profit organization are tax deductible in Austria. Departing from his prepared remarks, he referenced the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, reflected upon the core political values that European democracies share with the United States, and underlined the importance of resolve and solidarity in light of the jihadist challenge to these core values.

US Ambassador to Austria Alexa Wesner concluded the opening ceremony by recognizing the manifold contributions of institutions in the United States and in Austria to the program and pointed out that the Hall Foundation operated by her predecessor as US Ambassador to Austria, Kathryn Walt Hall and her husband Craig, had recently renewed their long-standing support for the Fulbright-Hall Distinguished Chair for Entrepreneurship in Central Europe at the WU-Wirtschaftsftüniversität Vienna with an $150,000 pledge securing three more years of funding for this award. Ambassador Wesner concluded her remarks by thanking the Republic of Austria for its steadfast support for the programs Fulbright Austria manages, and acknowledging the service of past and previous executive directors, Austrian and American board members, and staff.

The 725 m² of the MQ’s large capacity event spaces – Ovalhalle and Arena21 – were packed for the celebration, which was a truly intergenerational affair attended by alumni from the inaugural year of exchanges in 1951-52 to current program participants.

Over 500 alumni, friends, and associates of the Austrian-American Fulbright Program celebrated its 65th anniversary on...

Posted by Fulbright Austria on Monday, November 23, 2015

The US Embassy Vienna created the following video of the event:

We had a photo booth from http://www.fotoboxen.at/ on site:

Over 500 alumni, friends, and associates of the Austrian-American Fulbright Program celebrated its 65th anniversary on...

Posted by Fulbright Austria on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We were pleased to invite our current program participants, all alumni, and many institutional partners to take part in celebrating 65 years of Fulbright Austria in the MQ on November 19.

The 60th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Austria

On June 7, 2010, the Austrian-American Educational Commission celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Fulbright Program in Austria. The ceremony took place in the Great Hall of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and was a great success with over 350 people in attendance. After introductory remarks by the President of the Academy of Sciences, Prof. Helmut Denk, the Amber Vienna String Quartet performed classics of W.A Mozart.

Mag. Barbara Weitgruber, current chair of the Fulbright Commission, delivered greetings, followed by U.S. Ambassador William C. Eacho, III and Minister of Science and Research Dr. Beatrix Karl, both in their capacities as honorary co-chairs of the Fulbright Commission. Before the main highlight of the evening, the premiere of Georg Steinböck‟s documentary film Fulbright at Sixty, the Amber Vienna String Quartet per-formed Hang-time” and “Piece of Cake” by Geoffrey Hudson, a U.S. contemporary composer.

The film provided a vivid picture of the past sixty years of the Fulbright program and captured the experiences of former and current „Fulbrighters‟ through interviews, photographs from personal and institutional archives, and Super-8 footage from the 1960s. After the closing remarks by Dr. Lonnie Johnson, alumni, friends, and associates of the Austrian-American Fulbright program enjoy the rest of the evening at a vin d‟honneur.



Media Coverage

The 50th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Austria

On June 5, 2000, the Austrian-American Educational Commission celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Fulbright Program in Austria. The ceremony took place in the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. 


BrochureFulbright at Fifty