Impact of Budget Cuts on Foreign Language and International Relations Studies

Article by Sarah Wright for Education Portal, April 20, 2011:

Cuts to the federal budget are being felt across all sectors. In education, these cuts are particularly damaging to the fields of international studies and foreign languages. Here’s an analysis of how budget cuts may impact this field.

About The Cuts
In the federal government budget passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama in April, 2011, many programs and departments are seeing cuts. The Department of Education certainly did not avoid damage to its allotments, and one area, that of international studies and foreign languages, has seen major cuts to specific programs. These programs, including those enabled by Title VI of the Higher Education Act and the Fulbright-Hays act, are set to have their budgets cut by 40%.

Title VI of the Higher Education Act covers programs like overseas research centers, foreign language and area studies fellowships, business and international education, and language centers and international research, to name a few. Programs under the Fulbright-Hays act are distinct from the Fulbright programs administered by the State Department, though they similar. The purpose of these programs is to foster international cooperation by sending excellent students from the U.S. to study at foreign institutions.

It should be noted that not all foreign language and international studies programs are going to see cutbacks. Those affiliated with the Defense Department didn’t suffer much, and the State Department’s teaching programs were mostly untouched, with the exception of the Fulbright program. The Education Department is the federal body that suffered the most in this aspect of the budget.

The Implications
Cuts to the Fulbright-Hays programs will likely mean a significant drop in students receiving these awards. The way the cuts will impact programs will play out on a case-by-case basis, as individual departments at respective colleges and universities work out their own spending plans. One major way the cuts may be felt is through a drop in funding for graduate students. Another potential way the cuts may be felt is through staff layoffs. Since faculty is not funded through federal money, those professionals are unlikely to lose their jobs due to the budget cuts. However, foreign language classes may need to be cut, particularly those in less commonly studied, but still important, languages like Thai and Indonesian.

Aside from complaints about staff layoffs and other changes within the academy, opponents of the cuts argue that they may be damaging to the United States’ global economic viability and national security. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that one such opponent, Miriam A. Kazanjian of the Coalition for International Education, called the planned cuts ‘devastating.’ Kazanjian argues that education in languages like Arabic and Farsi, which are very important to the United States’ military, business and diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, would be severely damaged.

Another Perspective
While opponents of the cuts decry the loss of funding, there may be some cause to temper pessimism. This will certainly be quite difficult for those who lose jobs in the wake of the budget cuts. But scholarship may not suffer the setbacks that budget cut opponents have predicted. Many of the programs that will suffer sharp cuts actually benefited financially from efforts at ramping up international relations in the wake of September 11, 2001.

The impending cuts will certainly do damage to many of these programs, but will actually roll many of them back to their funding status before 2001. It can be argued that if these programs were able to succeed before receiving this extra funding, they will be able to succeed after losing it. Those who work, and study, in these fields are unlikely to agree with that point of view. But in a time of financial crisis, it may be necessary to make painful sacrifices. Whether the cuts to foreign language learning and international studies programs in the U.S. will have a severe and lasting negative impact remains to be seen.

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