Are International Exchange and Mobility Programmes Effective Tools of Symmetric Public Diplomacy?

  • Iain George Wilson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Governments often fund foreign nationals to live, work and study in their countries, creating specialist programmes tasked with promoting international mobility. In this thesis I establish that much of this funding is intended to serve a public diplomacy agenda, improving international relations to the benefit of the sponsor. Expectations about how offering funding to foreigners affects international relations have come to centre on what I label the ‘symmetric public diplomacy model’, which suggests that governments intend to influence other countries’ behaviour by influencing their citizens. I tested this model using a combination of panel surveys and interviews with students who took part in these programmes. Although mobility programmes do bring many educational and personal benefits to participants, my results do not support the expectation that they endow most visiting foreigners with more helpful attitudes than they would have developed had they not taken part in the programmes. While other studies have come to different conclusions on this issue, the research design employed in this thesis is better-suited to the task than most others.
Mobility programmes may bring diplomatic benefits by other means. One possibility is that the act of creating, for example, scholarships for foreign nationals sends signals to foreign governments. The histories of major British scholarship programmes suggest that they were originally created to signal goodwill or distract attention from potentially-embarrassing policies. Despite this, administrators now present these programmes as tools of public diplomacy. The symmetric public diplomacy model has been applied to these programmes long after they were initially created, and I suggest that the model may have been adopted because it is useful for attracting funding to continue and expand mobility programmes
Date of Award19 Jan 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorJames Vaughan (Supervisor) & Roger Michael Scully (Supervisor)


  • diplomacy model
  • international relations

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