Scholarships that shape the minds of the nation-shapers

When former governor Bruce Babbitt entered the 1988 presidential race earlier this month, his home state of Arizona came a step closer to the international limelight. So did the English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne? That gritty, muscular, North of England metropolis of steep cobbled streets and broad accents? That once-prosperous coal-and-steel-and-shipbuilding center that gave us the phrase ``carrying coals to Newcastle''?

That's the place. The brief biography that Governor Babbitt's team handed out at his March 10 announcements in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Georgia mentioned that Babbitt's 1963 Master of Science degree in geophysics was from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Babbitt's candidacy, admittedly, is a long-shot venture. But his case illustrates an interesting point about the value of an international education. What took Babbitt to Newcastle was a Marshall Scholarship - a little-known but prestigious award funded by the British government. Established in 1954 as an expression of gratitude for post-World War II financial aid to Britain given by the United States under the Marshall Plan, each year the scholarships bring 30 of America's finest university and college graduates to Britain - at a cost to the British government of well over $1 million a year. In the words of the Marshall Scholarship announcement, ``both men and women are eligible,'' and they may choose to study for two years at ``any university in the United Kingdom.''

Those are power-packed little phrases. Unlike the older and more widely known Rhodes Scholarship - which restricts enrollment exclusively to Oxford and only opened the award to women in 1968 - the Marshalls are founded on more egalitarian principles. The rules stipulate, in a quaintly British turn of phrase, that ``not more than a certain proportion of the Scholarships should be tenable at one university.'' Translated, this means that Oxford and Cambridge are compelled to share such honors with other universities in the British Isles.

What's all that got to do with Babbitt? Several things. First, his platform includes planks on such global concerns as world trade and international terrorism. For a man from a land-locked state in the free-enterprise West, those are not necessarily obvious issues. One can't, of course, trace his interests in these matters exclusively to an international education. But neither can one overlook the effect of two years abroad. One thing seems clear: By the turn of the century, if not before, the rapid pace of world-shrink and the increasing globalization of mankind's problems will make it almost essential for American leaders to have some kind of hands-on international experience - the kind that such periods of study can provide. It will become increasingly important for them not only to have studied international issues but also to have immersed themselves in the dailiness of another culture for long enough to shift their own perspectives.

Second, it's worth noting that Babbitt did not attend Oxford or Cambridge. Fine universities though they are, they nevertheless stand at the heart of an old-boy network (note the gender here) that many Britons admit stands solidly between them and the 21st century. The line that leads from a fine British ``public'' (meaning private) school to a position of world-class authority on the Foreign Office circuit typically lies through one of those universities. The language spoken there is English as pronounced in the Home Counties around London - a pronunciation quietly inculcated at the better secondary schools, where traces of the nation's many regional accents are skilfully rinsed away.

Babbitt, like any American politician of national stature, will meet plenty of such people. But he will be under no illusion that, in seeing them, he is seeing all there is of the British character. He will already have seen, among the loosening mortar and blackened stones of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a different sort of life - at once earthy and inspired, reticent and affectionate, hard-working and makeshift, sharp in trade and generous with strangers. He will have seen slices of dailiness that elude diplomats, tourists, and even some of the Brits themselves - and that shed, by way of contrast, a fascinating illumination on daily life in America.

And for that the Marshall Scholarship must take due credit. It has already swept into its net some 800 Americans - including Wellesley College president Nannerl Keohane, Mount Holyoke College president Elizabeth Kennan, inventor Ray Dolby of the Dolby Sound System, New York television executive John Jay Iselin - and scattered them across a range of British universities. As the world shrinks and problems become more global, the Marshall is clearly a program for the 21st century.

A Monday column

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