Foreign student places rise despite Russia’s isolation

Despite the ever-growing pressure of sanctions and increasing international isolation, Russia says the demand from foreigners for studying in its universities remains high, even from European countries, and has led the government to increase the existing quotas for state-funded places by 30%.

The total number of state-funded places for foreigners for the 2023-24 academic period will increase – by 30% – to 30,000, according to data of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

Despite the worsening relations between Russia and the West resulting from Russia’s role in the war in Ukraine, demand from international students has remained high, the ministry says.

This year eight European Union countries entered the top 10 in terms of the number of applications submitted from their citizens for studying in Russian universities, and among them are the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

There is also a general high interest for studying in Russia from students from Germany and Austria, the ministry says.

According to state analysts, the sanctions pressure of the West on Moscow and even the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the Bologna system has not weakened the interest of foreigners, in particular from Europe, to enter Russian universities.

Representatives of Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian state agency responsible for lobbying interests of the country in the international arena, in an interview with Russian business paper, Izvestia, revealed that from 1 September 2023 Russia will actually increase the number of state-funded places in universities for Europeans by 18% to almost 1,500 as part of the existing governmental quota. There is a possibility that the quota will grow further in 2024.

Back in the summer, Pavel Shevtsov, deputy head of Rossotrudnichestvo, said that the department had not recorded any reduction in demand from foreign applicants for studying in Russia under the government quota due to the current situation in Ukraine.

Moreover, this is just the beginning, since the Russian government is planning to double the number of European students studying in domestic universities over the next two to three years. For this purpose, there are plans to improve the existing system and programme for the reception of foreigners. In addition, Russia plans to promote its universities more actively in the international arena.

Traditionally, the largest number of applications have come from the former Soviet states, as well as countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Egypt, Colombia, Lebanon, as well as Nigeria and Syria.

The Russian universities most in demand among foreign students are the Saint Petersburg State University, the People’s Friendship University of Russia or RUDN University, the Higher School of Economics, Kazan Federal University and some others.

Representatives of Russian universities support the initiative of the Russian state for expansion of the existing quotas for foreign students with a particular focus given to applicants from European countries.

Anna Mezit, head of department of international cooperation of the Siberian Federal University, one of Russia’s largest universities, said she considers the planned increase in the number of foreign students as very important for Russia and its system of higher education.

She told University World News: “These are great opportunities for students and a great responsibility for Russian Houses [centres promoting Russian culture and affairs] in different countries, embassies and, of course, universities, because it is necessary not only to [fill] the allocated places, but to attract the most talented and motivated students.

“At the end of December, registration for admission was opened. There are applicants from different countries including China, Syria, Ecuador. There is also a high interest from Italy.”