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RUSSIA
State to invest US$3 billion in giant education cluster
The Russian government is considering investing up to RUB100 billion (US$3 billion) to establish a giant educational cluster in the city of Domodedovo, in the Moscow region. The cluster would be a Russian analogue of Cambridge and is expected to house the nation’s leading technical universities, particularly their academic buildings and sporting infrastructure.

According to state plans, at the initial stage five technical universities may move outside Moscow, with the possibility that the list this could be expanded later. The institutions include the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys; the Russian Economic University named after Plekhanov; Moscow Technical State University of Radio Engineering, Electronics and Automation; Moscow Industrial University; and Moscow Engineering Physics Institute.

Implementation of the project is being monitored by Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, who says the cluster will be part of the reforms of the national system of higher education, aimed at harmonising it with Western standards.

Catherine Tolstikova, director of the department responsible for managing the network of subordinate organisations in the Russian Ministry of Education, has sent out a proposal to move 45 leading Moscow universities into the cluster and has asked them to respond.

Other details of the project have not been disclosed but representatives of the majority of Russian universities and the Russian Union of Students have strongly criticised the plans.

Alex Kozak, head of the student union, said that before completing a list of universities that would move outside Moscow, there was a need to establish the cluster and then to hold a contest among universities interested in moving to Domodedovo.

Much the same position is shared by Russian universities, which are unhappy with the idea of the government forcing them to leave their current premises in the prestigious Moscow districts. An official representative of the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, one of the top institutions, said the university had no plans to move to Domodedovo because it owned it own campus in the south of Moscow. Also, building a new campus in another city would be impossible given the enormous costs.

Paul Pospelov, first vice-rector of the Moscow State Automobile and Road Technical University, said a move to Domodedovo would only be interesting to small institutions that did not have a lot of infrastructure and equipment.

“We believe that changing of location would be inappropriate for the university. It would be possible to build additional dorms in Domodedovo but not to fully move to the Moscow region,” Pospelov said.

“All of our buildings are currently located in the immediate proximity of each other. In addition, we constructed a new building in 2010 and are not going to leave it.”

Russian officials have also criticised the proposal.

Deputy chair of the Education Committee of the state duma, Oleg Smolin, said such a move could have a negative impact on students. The real goal of the initiative was “clearing of territory for offices and commercial buildings”, Smolin said, adding that conditions for students would be worse and, given that the majority of students were Moscow citizens, they would be unhappy having to travel outside the city.
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