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Russia announces US$165 million programme for study abroad

Russia recently announced an ambitious new grant programme designed to add more scientists to its economy and to forge global research collaborations. Beginning in 2013, Russia will pay for up to 2,000 students a year to study abroad in all fields of science, technology, medicine, social science and business. The programme willl cost US$165 million and last at least three years. The first year will likely see 1,000 students go abroad.

To participate, the students must:

  • attend one of the top 300 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings
  • keep a blog – both about their studies and then about their jobs
  • return to Russia to work for at least three years after graduation or have to pay back all of the grant stipend, which includes travel, tuition fees, and living expenses.

The universities themselves — not Russian officials — will select the students based on merit. Said Konstantin Severinov, a molecular biologist at US-based Rutgers University to The Cap Times:

“The good thing is that the initiative is in the hands of students, who will be selected — or not — on the basis of merit by foreign schools. That way, Russian university administrators cannot exert too much control over which students receive the awards.”

The programme reflects a promise Prime Minister Putin made to increase Russia’s funding of science and education, as well as what The Chronicle of Higher Education calls “Russia’s new-found interest in international engagement.” The Chronicle notes that unlike other economies in the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), Russia has been slow to internationalise in education – lagging far behind in attracting students to study in Russia and also trailing in sending students out to study.

The decision to send students out to study via this new programme may stem from the fact that Russian education institutions have not been placing well in international rankings. Part of the programme involves bolstering international research collaborations, which could be a step towards improving the world stature of Russia’s universities. At the same time, new reforms have been passed that make it easier for foreign students and academics’ credentials to be recognised in Russia.

As much as the programme may stimulate Russia’s science and education sectors, there are worries that participating students may decide to not return to work in Russia – despite the requirement that they would have to pay back the grant money in that case. In The Cap Times, Severinov points to the diminished Russian science sector and the nascent status of the high-tech industry as challenges to enticing the programme’s students to return to Russia for the full three years.

Further reforms and investment in the science and education sectors in Russia would offset such a risk, making remaining in the country post-graduation a more feasible option. Moreover, as the science journal Nature reports, such programmes have proved successful in other countries:

“China — now a scientific powerhouse — has benefited considerably from government-sponsored overseas training of hundreds of thousands of students since the 1970s. The students’ international experience also helps to bolster international research partnerships once they return home.”

At the least, Russia is taking an important step with its new grant programme. Educators and recruiters alike will no doubt watch closely in the years ahead to see if this is a singular experiment or the first of many steps toward greater internationalisation and competitiveness.

Sources: The Cap Times, Nature, The Chronicle of Higher Education

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