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Russia aims to triple international enrolment by 2025

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A new recruitment strategy seeks to grow Russia’s international enrolment to more than 700,000 students by 2025
  • This would more than triple the current enrolment
  • The value of Russian exports would also more than triple over this period to a forecast value of US$6.3 billion by 2025

Russia has announced a new international recruitment programme that is designed to dramatically expand foreign enrolment in the country’s higher education institutions. Under the Ministry of Education and Science’s “Development of the export potential of the Russian education system” programme, approved an executive council of the government on 30 May 2017, Russia wants to build its international enrolment from just under 220,000 students today to nearly 310,000 by 2020 (a 40% increase). The programme also sets a long-term strategy to build Russia’s foreign student base to 710,000 students by 2025.

This is, to say the least, an ambitious strategy, and one that builds on recent forecasts by Gulnara Krasnova, lead researcher at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration‘s Institute of Applied Economic Research (RANEPA).

Dr Krasnova points out that the population of foreign students at Russian universities has grown by an average annual rate of 9% since 2003. If that average growth holds through 2029/30, Russia’s international enrolment would rise to roughly 670,000 students.

The newly announced strategy clearly relies on even more aggressive annual growth rates. With implementation underway as of May 2017, the programme will initially be rolled out to group of 20 leading Russian institutions, and then to all universities in the country by 2021. Its major components include:

  • Strengthened support services for international students
  • Expanded English-medium degree programmes
  • An increasing range of joint programmes, pathway options, summer programmes, and online programmes

On this last point, there are roughly 100,000 foreign students enrolled in distance and online learning programmes with Russian institutions currently, and these numbers are also forecast to increase sharply through 2025.

In addition to strengthening services and programme options for foreign students, the Russian government intends to undertake a number of related policy initiatives, noting that the project “will improve the regulatory framework governing the appointment and training of foreigners, the recognition of foreign education documents, the procedures for entry, exit and stay of foreign teachers, as well as the taxation of educational activities in the framework of international cooperation.”

Finally, the new strategy also anticipates greater coordination of Russian recruitment efforts through marketing campaigns, education fairs, and also through a new online portal promoting Russian education.

In order to deliver on the full range of priorities in its new strategy, the Russian government will spend RUB5 billion (US$84 million) through 2025. In return, officials anticipate that the value of Russian education exports will increase by 350%, from RUB84 billion (US$1.4 billion) currently to RUB373 billion (US$6.3 billion).

The earliest policy moves in support of the new recruitment project are already underway. The Russian news agency TASS reported on 23 June that the Science and Education Ministry has brought forward new legislation to ease visa regulations for visiting students. Under the current rules, foreign students can only apply for an initial three-month visa on beginning their programmes in Russia, and are then required to go through regular one-year renewals during their studies. However, under the proposed legislation the maximum term for study visas would be extended to three years.

Building on success

Russia has quietly but quickly built its international student base over the last decade. Most students come from the former Soviet Republics that now make up the Commonwealth of Independent States, notably Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. But recent initiatives to expand recruitment and programming for foreign students have also opened the door to increasing enrolments from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.

As we noted in a recent summary, Russia hardly figured at all among the world’s leading study destinations in 2001. However, in the following 15 years it has gone on to earn a significant market share. As of 2016, Russia was the destination of choice for 6% of the world’s internationally mobile students – making it the 8th-largest host of foreign students after the US, UK, Australia, China, Canada, Germany, and France.

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