Russia to expand HE collaboration with Asia and Africa

The Russian Ministry of Education and Science is set to expand its grants and scholarships for internships and university exchanges focusing on students who want to study in Asian and African countries, especially China.

The ministry will provide funding for 150 such internships and exchanges for students of oriental studies in August and September.

It is the first time such grants and scholarships have been provided on this scale and the number will further increase in subsequent months.

The move is part of a state project on the development of Oriental and African studies, which involves the expansion of Russian universities’ cooperation with universities of Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific states.

“In the context of the active development of Asian and African vectors of Russian interests at present, the expansion of Russia in Asian and African countries should take place within the framework of specialised universities and other domestic educational platforms,” said Russia’s Minister of Science and Higher Education, Valery Falkov.

In a veiled reference to Russia’s deteriorating relations with the West over the war in Ukraine and its resulting orientation towards stronger ties with the East, he added: “The special program for the development of Oriental and African studies, which we are developing today, must respond to the challenges that we face today.”

According to the minister, the biggest hopes of Russia lie with China, which has a huge potential and will gain momentum in scientific cooperation and student exchanges in years to come.

Project ‘already under way’

Alexey Maslov, director of the Institute of Asian and African Countries at Moscow State University – who is one of the main organisers of the project – said in an interview with the Russian Vedomosti business paper that the project has already been launched and involves the conduct of internships on a bilateral basis with foreign and domestic universities who also send their students to Russia for internships.

Such educational trips are funded through the embassies or ministries of education of the countries. The project also involves regular student exchanges.

Maslov said: “For the first time since 1991, it has been decided that the Russian government should fund more than a hundred scholarships for internships for both students and teachers. This practice will expand every year over the next five years.

“The ministry of education and science will take care of the door-to-door internship [costs]: travel, accommodation and training.”

Maslov also added that all the internships are planned at least six months in advance. Students who have already enrolled in oriental studies will be able to go on an internship in 2024. The frequency of internships will depend on the university program.

According to an official representative of the press service of the ministry of education and science, the program “also involves the introduction of so-called youth laboratories, the introduction of a new scientific specialty ‘Oriental and African Studies’, the development and implementation of integrated and network programs, as well as programs for improving qualifications in this area”.

A spokesman of the ministry said: “Now the drafting of the project is at the final stage – and all comments and suggestions have been taken into account and agreed upon. Its presentation is planned after approval by the working group of the ministry of education and science.

“Since the program includes several activities, some of them will begin to be implemented from the new academic year. At present, the terms of the project implementation are being specified.”

’Not just about addressing isolation’

Nikita Filin, head of the department of history at the Russian State University for the Humanities, considers the new state initiative as very important even without considering any political issues and the current isolation of Russia in the international arena.

Filin said: “Oriental studies are a promising direction today, as Asian countries are actively developing, striving for dominance in world political and economic processes.

“Ties between Russia and the Middle East are also strengthening.

“We believe our students and graduates will be in demand in the public sector, IT, journalism, tourism, and analytical companies in these countries if they decide to continue to study in them after the end of their internships.”

In the meantime, almost the same position is shared by Andrey Karneev, head of the school of Asian studies, and a professor at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs of the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), in Moscow.

Karneev told University World Newsin an exclusive interview that the state decision to fund student internships at Asian universities is a timely initiative.

“This will be a great support to our educational and scientific oriental studies. Now, when diverse ties with the countries of the ‘world majority’ (China, India etc) are becoming a priority for us, Oriental studies are becoming one of the strategic areas, as the country needs high-level professionals,” he said.

“The question is that that the approved internships is probably not enough to satisfy the existing demand, because there are more than two dozen universities where training in the direction of Oriental and African Studies is being conducted, and there is still a huge the number of students studying Oriental languages in other educational specialties.”

Among the main developers and initiators of the project are the Institute of Asian and African countries of the Moscow State University, the Institute for African Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Institute of Oriental Studies RAS, Institute of China and Modern Asia RAS, the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), HSE, Saint Petersburg State University, Far Eastern Federal University, Novosibirsk State University (NSU), and the Perm National Research Polytechnic University.

Alexander Trufanov, vice-rector for Youth Policy and Information at Perm National Research Polytechnic University, told University World News that the project is one of the most important for the university.

“A priority for the university is the expansion of partnerships in the countries of the African continent. In the near future, cooperation agreements will be signed, involving mutual exchanges between universities,” he said.

“The possibility of scholarship support from the state in terms of covering the costs of travel, accommodation and education will both increase the flow of such exchanges and form a system of ambassadors of Russian education abroad.

“We believe that it would be advisable to apply this practice in the medium term for internships also in the countries of the Middle East and Latin America.”

Collaboration with China a key focus

As part of these plans, a particular attention will be paid to the expansion of internships and student exchanges with Chinese universities.

The Russian Ministry of Education and Science last month reported that China and Russia are developing cooperation at the level of student exchanges. Currently 32,600 Chinese citizens already study at Russian universities, including their foreign branches. In the case of Russian students, currently about 14,000 of them study in Chinese universities.

According to the ministry, among the countries of the Middle East, student exchanges primarily grow between Russia and Iran. According to data from the ministry 4,700 students from Iran currently study in Russian universities on bachelor, specialist and masters programs. The number of Iranian students in Russia over the past three years has grown by 1.8 times.

It is expected that the plans will allow Russian students to find jobs in these countries after their graduation and that this will contribute to the strengthening of political and economic ties between the sides, which is especially important for Russia given its current isolation from the West.