Upcoming summit expected to forge higher education ties

At least four separate agreements dealing with higher education cooperation are set to be signed between the Russian Federation and 10 African countries at the upcoming high-level Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum taking place from 23 to 24 October in Sochi, Russia.

The agreements, expected to raise the number of African students studying in Russia, include mutual recognition of qualifications and degrees, and pacts on scientific cooperation and technical and innovative activities. The meeting is to be organised by the Roscongress Foundation.

“The Russia-Africa Summit is the first event of this level in the history of Russia-Africa relations to which the heads of all states of the African continent as well as the leaders of major regional associations and organisations have been invited,” Irina Abramova, director of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and member of the summit organising committee, told University World News.

New agreements

“The list of cooperation agreements that are expected to be signed on the sidelines of the summit and forum is currently being finalised. I would like to assure you that there will be new agreements on cooperation in science and education,” she said.

The African countries expected to ink deals with the host are South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cameroon Mauritius, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola and Eritrea.

Five countries including Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Mauritius, Sierra Leone and Uganda are expected to sign individual interagency memoranda of cooperation in higher education between their respective university education regulators and their Russian equivalent.

Mozambique and Namibia are expected to sign an interagency memoranda of cooperation in scientific, technical and innovative activities, involving their national scientific promotion bodies and Russian counterparts.

South Africa is expected to sign an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in higher education and vocational training with Russia, Abramova disclosed, without sharing details of the pacts.

A separate “strategic framework document” devoted to cooperation in education, science and technology between Russia and the African Union (AU) will be signed. The document will give “consideration” to the relevant AU development strategies, including Agenda 2063, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25), the Continental Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET Strategy), and the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024).

“In particular, the summit will focus on the current state and prospects of relations between Russia and countries of the African continent developing collaboration in the political, economic, humanitarian, cultural and other affairs, with an emphasis on finding ways to accelerate and systematically develop the entire scope of Russian-African cooperation,” said Abramova.

Increased African student numbers

She predicted that the number of African students studying in Russia under federation scholarships and self-sponsorship – currently 17,000, according to the 2018 Russian Statistical Yearbook – will rise as a result of the event.

Russia was determined to raise the number of Africans enrolled in its universities substantially, to enable the country to reach the Soviet-era numbers when thousands studied there each year, said Abramova, who is also a professor in the department for African and Arab studies at the People’s Friendship University of Russia, also known as RUDN University.

She said there was need to intensify scientific cooperation between Russia and Africa, including implementing joint scientific projects and short-term visits by scientists to support growth of science in Africa.

“We are looking at the possibility of opening a representative office of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Africa as well as establishing branches of leading Russian universities.”

‘Exact sciences’

Russia is well-positioned in terms of the quality of education and in teaching “exact sciences”, making it an ideal higher education destination for students from around the globe, she said.

She said her country was not “intimidated” by the growing popularity of China and India as destinations for African students, noting that there was a substantial number of Africans who prefer to study in Russia owing to the country’s “strong academic base” in sciences.

The summit is co-chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who also chairs the African Union. African heads of state and government representatives are expected to attend.