Study in the UK -- Change the World!

Yesterday evening, I had the privilege of hosting the 2013 class of Marshall Scholars, just before they jet off to begin their studies in the UK. It was no surprise to learn that they are, as always, a collection of exceptional young Americans. One, Katie Davidson, is an officer in the U.S. Navy with expertise in women's rights, counterterrorism and even comic books, who between Cambridge tutorials plans to swim the English Channel. Another, Stephanie Figgins, has reported from Cairo for Voice of America. Still another, Jonathan Naber, founded Amputados Unidos in Guatemala, a support group for amputees.

Parliament set up the Marshall Scholarships in 1953, with the express aim of extending the close ties between Britain and the United States that had developed during the Second World War. They were named after one of the greatest American generals of that war, and one of the most important architects of the peace that followed, George C. Marshall. In his address to the very first class of Marshall Scholars, in 1954, Marshall wrote that "A close accord between our two countries is essential in this turbulent world of today, and that is not possible without an intimate understanding of each other." Since then, the program has brought more than 1,700 bright young scholars to the UK.

Marshall's "close accord" is, if anything, even more essential now. With so many countries newly prosperous and powerful, it is the responsibility of the UK, the U.S. and our allies to uphold our most fundamental values of democracy, free expression and open markets. Globalization has benefited the world a great deal, but along with those benefits come challenges -- increased economic competition, climate change, weapons proliferation -- which we must meet together. Scholarships help sustain the links between our two countries by creating bonds of friendship between the leaders of the future.

As accomplished as the scholars invariably are when they enter the programme, Marshall alumni go on to achieve even more amazing things, across just about every field imaginable. In the past year alone, one has become an astronaut; another has been elected to Congress; and a third has received the Order of the British Empire for services to dance. Ray Dolby, the audio pioneer who died over the weekend at the age of 80, was a Marshall alumnus, as is the hugely talented New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who delivered an inspiring keynote address at yesterday's event.

Bringing such remarkable individuals to the UK early in their careers, and putting them in touch with their British counterparts, is an enormous benefit to the links between our two countries. That's why, even at a time when budgets face pressure across the board, the UK government has opted to maintain -- and even increase -- funding for the Marshall Scholarships.

The Marshalls are an essential part of British public diplomacy in the United States. I am proud to support them.