The number of Russian students applying to study abroad has dropped by between 25% and 30% this year, according to a leading consulting agency on foreign education.
In some disciplines, especially languages, the numbers have dropped by 40%.
The economic crisis in Russia and devaluation of the national currency, the ruble, caused by Western sanctions, are behind the decline in demand, according to analysis by the Bureau of International Educational Programmes.
Alexei Surin, CEO of the Bureau, said the drop in applicants may significantly increase if the current economic situation in Russia deteriorates further during the next few months.
The problem is also aggravated by the government’s decision to cut funding from the existing state Global Education programme from 12 March. The programme covered the costs of tuition for 1,500 Russian students studying in foreign universities each year, but from will now only cater for 750 students.
Alexander Klimov, Russia’s deputy minister of education and science, said: “The decision is connected to the significant decline of interest among Russian students in participating in the programme, due to the devaluation of the Russian ruble. At present the maximum amount of the grant cannot cover the costs of tuition and living abroad.”
He said the government decided not to increase the funding of the programme, and instead halved the number of participants covered but more than doubled the size of the grants, from RUB1.3 million to RUB2.7 million (US$22,600 to US$46,900).
According to data of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the current number of Russian students who study abroad is estimated at 50,000, but due to the current economical instability in Russia these figures may significantly decline.
The Ministry said that although some foreign universities have proposed reducing tuition fees to Russian students, as well allowing them to make payment in instalments, many Russian students abroad are considering leaving their foreign university.
In recent months many Russian students studying in the US have asked the management of some Russian universities and the Russian government about the possibility of transferring to domestic higher education institutions, according to Marina Frolova, head of Assyst agency, an agency specialising in the training of Russian students for studying in American universities.
However, Russian regulations currently do not allow quick transfer from institutions abroad and to those at home.
Some Russian analysts and officials have therefore called on the national parliament, or State Duma, to design a package of amendments to ease such transfers.
Artem Khromov, head of the Russian Student Union and student ombudsman, said his union has urged the State Duma to adopt amendments to the existing federal law on education to allow Russian students to transfer to domestic universities from foreign institutions without having to pass additional exams.
A bill has been drafted incorporating the proposed changes and is expected to be put before parliament in April, with the support of the official spokesman of the Russian Duma Committee on Education.
According to an official spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the government did consider closing the Global Education programme altogether.
However, it survived because it has strong advocates in the Russian Presidential Administration, in particular Andrei Belousov, presidential aide.
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