Government plans package to lure students from the West

The Russian government plans a package of measures to attract more students from Western countries to study at domestic universities, according to recent statements of some senior officials and heads of some leading Russian universities.

The measures will include an increase in the number of educational programmes taught in English at Russian universities; the development of infrastructure, mainly through the building of new campuses and modernisation of the existing ones; fast-track visa procedures; and the provision of special scholarships.

Implementation of these plans will be part of the existing state project, known as ‘Export of Russian Education’, which was approved in May last year by the Russian Presidential Council for Strategic Development and Priority Projects.

The project is designed until 2025 and aims to increase the competitiveness of Russian higher education in the international arena. Its main goal is to triple the number of foreign students studying at Russian universities, taking the total up to 710,000.

With regard to visa procedures, it is planned that foreign students accepted at Russian universities will be able to receive visas on a fast-track basis in just 10-15 days, instead of 3-5 months, as in the past. Moreover, at the end of last year already the Russian government approved the right of foreign students to automatically extend their visas each year, without leaving the country.

Details of scholarships, grants earmarked for students from the West and provided by universities or the Russian government, will be announced later this year. According to officials from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the scholarships will be awarded on a case by case basis.

University leaders welcome package

This initiative has been welcomed by the heads of Russia’s leading universities.

Vladimir Filippov, head of the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), one of Russia’s leading higher education institutions (and a leader in terms of the number of foreign students), told University World News: “Russian higher education should be refocused from the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries and Asia to the countries of the Western world. In order to implement these goals, Russia needs to strengthen its positions in international educational ratings, which target applicants from developed countries.”

He added that Russia is currently usually chosen by applicants who for some reason have not been able to secure a place to study at American or European universities.

It was in 2012 that Russia first announced its plans to strengthen its competitiveness in the international market of higher education when the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, instructed the ministry of education to create conditions for the entry by 2025 of at least five Russian universities into the world’s top 100 universities, in accordance with leading global university rankings.

To implement these goals, the ‘5-100’ programme was launched, with 21 universities participating. By 2020 about RUB35 billion (US$560 million) will be allocated by the state for the implementation of the programme.

In the meantime, in recent years the number of foreign students studying at Russian universities has significantly increased. According to statistics of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, in the last academic year 220,000 foreigners studied at Russian universities. The majority of foreign students come to Russia from the CIS countries and Asia.

"Students from the countries that are ahead, primarily look at the ratings," said Dmitry Guzhel, deputy head of Rossotrudnichestvo, the government’s cultural agency.

He confirmed that these international students’ choice of university was also influenced by the availability of English-language educational programmes and quality infrastructure.