Ends Changed, Means Retained: Scholarship Programs, Political Influence, and Drifting Goals


  • Iain Wilson

Research Highlights and Abstract

  • Governments offer scholarships to foreign nationals expected to become influential in their home countries and shape public opinion to the benefit of their sponsor. This is known as the ‘opinion leader’ model.
  • The histories of three British scholarship programs whose directors now subscribe to the ‘opinion leader’ model suggest they were actually set up for other reasons.
  • Beliefs about what the programs are for have shifted toward the ‘opinion leader’ model even as they have continued to do the same things.
  • The pattern of changing objectives seems to fit a Kingdonian model of the policy process.

Many governments offer scholarships specifically to foreign citizens. In recent years both policymakers and academics have associated these scholarships with political influence, arguing that they generate sympathetic and influential alumni who support positive relationships between their home country and their sponsor. Digging deeper into the histories of several scholarship programs which are now being portrayed in this way shows they were actually set up for very different reasons. Explanations for why scholarships are being given to foreign citizens have changed over time, consistent with a Kingdonian model of the policy process. We need to be cautious about taking these claims at face value, an important reminder for foreign policy analysts more generally.