RUSSIA: Plan to fund 10,000 a year to study abroad

The Russian government has announced plans to fund up to 10,000 students a year to study abroad at the world's leading universities.

The Russian Ministry of Education expects most of the students to go to the United States. But others will go to universities in Australia, Europe and elsewhere. Under the terms of the initiative, participants will be required to return to Russia to work after completing their studies.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: "Thousands of our young scientists, engineers and public officials will receive masters and doctoral degrees at the world's leading universities during the next decade. Hopefully, studying abroad will allow them to take key positions in Russian business, government, science and education."

Under the plan 2,000 Russian students will be able to enrol in foreign universities from 2012, rising to up to 10,000 in 2015. The first year of the initiative will cost an estimated USD$60 million.

The programme is expected to be divided into two large blocks, depending on degree type. The ministry estimates the cost of obtaining a PhD at about $120,000 a year, an MBA at $80,000, and a masters at $15,000 to $20,000, with as additional $40,000 dollars for living expenses.

The government also plans to prepare a list of potential employers who may be interested in hiring graduates after their return to Russia.

Education Minister Sergei Fursenko said: "We are planning a complex programme which will involve domestic employers, who will express their interest in highly qualified specialists and ensure [they are offered] attractive high-paying jobs."

During the initial years of the programme, students will be able to choose their courses by themselves. But the government in future years may introduce requirements for places to be filled in particular subjects to produce specialists in demand, such as engineers, lawyers and economists.

Russian experts believe that the new Medvedev initiative could be highly beneficial for both the state and students.

According to Leonid Fituni, head of the department of world economy at the International Independent University of Environmental and Political Sciences, such specialists will be in great demand in the Russian labour market.

"This is really important in terms of the gradual establishment of a single labour market and the ever-increasing internationalisation of higher education," Fituni said.

Graduates who refuse to return to Russia will be obliged to pay a penalty, in accordance with a mechanism developed by experts of the ministries of education and economic development.

This is expected to involve a legally binding contract, signed between the applicant and the Ministry of Education, specifying the date when the student will return after graduation.

The final mechanism is likely to be approved by autumn this year.

However, many Russian higher education experts do not believe that students who have studied at Western universities will go home.

Sergei Komkov, President of the All-Russian Education Foundation, said most state-funded students would try to stay abroad, tempted by more and better-paid job opportunities in the US and Europe compared with Russia.

So far, the government has funded the education of just 40 domestic undergraduate students and 60 postgraduate students in foreign universities under a presidential scholarship programme. Launched in 1993, it selects candidates based on the results of a nationwide public competition.