RUSSIA: A success story in Moscow

Professor Svetlana Ter-Minasova, founder and head of Moscow State University's faculty of foreign languages and area studies, is one of three women deans out of the 40 at Russia's top university. Although she describes progress in her long academic career - she started teaching as soon as she graduated from the university in 1961 - as "natural", the fact that so few women scale the heights of academia in Russia makes her exceptional.

An energetic and engaging woman, Ter-Minasova, 69, developed the new discipline of language and intercultural communication studies to bridge the gap between Soviet-era teaching of foreign languages and classical subjects as dry as Latin, as well as the demands of the new world that the collapse of Communism ushered in. Yet she does not think her gender has been a hindrance.

"In Russia some professions have many women in them - medicine and education are two key areas - but they tend to be concentrated in lower levels. The further up the professional ladder, the more men you find," she said. "In universities the vast majority of professors and deans are men. In the sciences men dominate absolutely."

Ter-Minasova's career path has been one of steady ascent: from assistant teacher, teacher, senior teacher, associate professor, full professor and then dean, she progressed through sheer hard work and application. It is something that, with typical modesty, she puts down to her "love of language learning" which she describes as both a job and a hobby. In the days when she had 'spare time' she used to run a student English theatre, which she says was "an excellent way to really teach the English language".

The author of 150 books and academic papers, she founded the foreign language faculty in 1988 - on the eve of the complete collapse of the USSR and the systems of social support that it guaranteed through university tenure.

It was a topsy-turvy time when she had to learn the new rules fast. As a new faculty head she had no base, no building which she could turn into revenue through renting facilities and was once asked to pay university electricians before they would plug in a cine-projector.

The fact that today fee-paying students for her immensely popular courses in English and area studies are willing for fork out $12,000 a year is a testament to her success.

In a market economy where graduates with language and inter-cultural communication skills (that is, they understand not only how to speak a language but how to interact effectively with its native speakers) are valuable commodities, hanging onto staff is a key challenge.

As someone who once happily left her three-year-old son at a state run kindergarten for a month while she went to England on a British Council scholarship (the month cost the equivalent of a "three minute phone call from London to Moscow"), she offers perks for which the less fortunate have to pay dearly: the children of staff are offered free foreign language tuition, entrance exam tutoring and, subject to success, a coveted place at Moscow State University.

*In another Russian success story for a woman academic, Elena Vartonova has been elected new dean of Moscow State University's renowned faculty of journalism after its long-serving head Yasen Zasursky stepped down. Vartonova, a specialist in Finnish and Scandinavian media who graduated with a doctorate from the faculty in 1999, has been acting dean since last November.

Zasursky, 78, had headed the faculty - which trains many of Russia's leading print and broadcast journalists - since 1965 but is staying on as faculty president and advisor to the university's rector Viktor Sadovnichy.