The end of the Cold War also means an end to the battle of the brains -- the struggle between the United States and Soviet Union to see which superpower could recruit more foreign students to its universities to be propagandized in the "right" thinking and sent home.
Scholarship administrators in American universities fear that federal scholarships to foreigners will suffer from the budget ax now that the United States is no longer as interested in one-upping the Soviet scholarship programs.
A scholarship may be an unlikely tool for asserting control in the Third World. But a close look at certain U.S. and Soviet programs for Latin American students reveals more politics than academics.
Throughout the 1980s, Washington and Moscow ran a race to see who could grant more scholarships to Latin Americans. Most U.S. programs were run by the Agency for International Development.
The Soviets initially took the lead. "For every Panamanian in the U.S., there were nearly five in the Soviet Union," recalled Eduardo Conrado, a veteran university director of AID scholarships.
In 1984, the U.S. National Bipartisan Commission on Central America issued the "Kissinger report" with a recommendation to boost the program to 10,000 scholarships.
AID responded by giving $268 million to foreign students in 1985-87. Funds were targeted to poor people with leadership potential who could get an education and return to serve their countries. Some didn't go home, but AID has gradually worked out most of the loopholes students used to stay.
The United States built up its numbers until today more than 13,000 Latin American and Caribbean scholars have been educated in the United States courtesy of the taxpayers.
But a 1985 audit revealed that initially the United States was less interested in educating future leaders than in outnumbering Soviet-educated leaders.
The audit noted that poor people should be targeted for scholarships because they were also "one of the prime target groups of Soviet bloc training efforts." The audit said that unless the program was upgraded, it would be ineffective in counteracting Soviet scholarships, a mission the audit called "the primary goal" of the AID scholarships.
The report complained that too much money was going to countries where the Soviet presence was minimal. Nowhere in the audit were the educational needs of students from those countries emphasized.
Scholarship administrators at various universities told our associate Dean Boyd that the Soviet-U.S. competition has always been one motivating force behind the AID largess. But under glasnost, the program has outgrown its Cold War mentality.
AID officials assured us their program has matured beyond a numbers game. University administrators agree, but some fear that without the competition, the scholarships will not be a priority and the budget will be cut.
AID officials told us that won't happen and that little or no consideration should be given to what the Soviets are doing. But one federal scholarship administrator told us, "It remains to be seen how committed Washington is to long-term development in Latin America or short-term political goals."