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Russia making moves for both inbound and outbound students

In February we wrote of the increasing interest in Russia – and more broadly among Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members such as Belarus and Kazakhstan – to become more internationalised in their educational offerings. We noted the substantial amount of money being invested in the effort, of the dramatic growth of foreign students in Russian universities, and of the expansion of international relations departments and English-taught programmes within universities in Russia and the CIS.

Against that backdrop, Russia has recently announced that in addition to these outward-looking signals of internationalisation, it will be introducing policies that require foreign students to spend a year studying, and passing exams for, government-mandated subjects including Russian language and literature.

We will discuss the new admissions regulations in this article, and also share news about a new Russian scholarship programme designed to send students from Russia to top universities abroad, and then have them return home to enrich the country’s economy and talent pool.

A year to prepare

By the end of 2014, foreign students who want to study at a Russian university will have to spend a foundational year studying and passing exams in mandated subjects before being allowed to take a university entrance exam.

Foundation students will be divided into groups depending on their study interests (e.g., humanities, natural sciences, medicine and biology, engineering, and economics). They will have to take several mandatory subjects, including Russian language studies, and one specialist subject for their area of interest.

At the end of their Russian language courses, students will have to:

  • Have a vocabulary of at least 2,300 words;
  • Understand 200-240 words per minute;
  • Read at a speed of 80-100 words per minute;
  • Be able to write an essay or produce a summary on a topic in their specialist field;
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the Russian literature of the 18th-19th centuries as well as biographies of great Russian authors: Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov;
  • Be able to describe the literary styles of various authors and be able to speak about their works and characters (two to three works by each author).

Regarding the Russian language requirements, vice-chancellor of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Viktor Grishin explained to Russia Beyond the Headlines that they come as a response to vague admissions policies in place today:

“At the moment, there are no clear requirements as regards knowledge of Russian; as a result very basic ones are applied.”

Russia Beyond the Headlines also notes: “It is not yet clear whether these regulations will affect students who are enrolled in courses where the medium of instruction is English.”

The article estimates that roughly 250,000 foreign students from 150 countries are studying in Russia today – most from the former Soviet republics – Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. The Russian Education Ministry has stated it wants to raise the percentage of international students from 2.5% of the total to 6% in 2015 and 10% in 2018.

New scholarship programme for postgraduate studies abroad

Nuffic reports that the Russian President and the Ministry of Education and Science will soon launch a scholarship programme for Russian students that will see 3,000 students in the country study at some of the world’s leading universities between 2014 and 2017.

In each of those years, roughly 1,000 Russian students will receive €32,000 to enrol in a master’s or postgraduate programme. As Nuffic states:

“One of the conditions will be that Russian students sign a contract stating that they will return to Russia after graduation and work for three years in a state organisation or enterprise. If students fail to fulfill their obligations, they will have to pay a fine of up to 1.4 million Rubles (around €29,000).”

As for the universities for which the scholarship will apply, these will largely be found on this list of 210 universities whose degrees are automatically recognised in Russia.

The list of universities whose graduates receive automatic recognition in Russia comprises institutions from 25 countries and was compiled based on three international rankings: the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. It was created to encourage Russian graduates of foreign universities to return home to pursue careers in Russia as well as to attract more foreign researchers to the country.

Russia has suffered from severe “brain drain” in recent years, and in 2012, not one Russian university made it to the Times Higher Education ranking of top 100 schools by academic reputation. The new funding the Russian government is investing in education, as well as scholarships such as the one discussed in today’s article are clearly signs that the government is committed to reversing the talent exodus, particularly in scientific fields.

Please note: Russian students interested in the new scholarship should enrol in a university in the next few months. Says Charles Hoedt, Director of Nuffic Neso Russia: “This is to ensure that they are ready to apply for the scholarship later when the official conditions become known. Only after they are admitted to a foreign university can students apply for the scholarship.”

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