The number of foreign students in Russian institutions of higher education has risen by almost 10% in the past year. The number of students from Europe has risen by 40%. There has been a substantial rise in students from India and China as well—by 20% and 10%, respectively. Russia is reasserting itself on the global education market.
The global trends show that higher education is becoming a more and more international market. According to experts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, more than four million students go to foreign schools for their post-secondary schooling. In a number states, educational exports comprise a major budget item. For instance, educational services are the third largest source of income for Australia’s state treasury. One in five Australian students comes from another country.
Developed countries have traditionally shown a great interest in attracting foreign students, and the trends show that this interest will only grow. For instance, the University of California Center for Studies in Higher Education has shown that the number of international students in the United States must be doubled by 2020 to maintain the nation’s innovation-based economy. And we’re talking not only about the number of students, but also about seeking the most talented students, especially in the fields of the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
International students began to come to Russia in the beginning of the 1950s. These were primarily students from socialist countries, though there were also young Communists from France, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain who came to study then. When the Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia opened in Moscow in 1960, the influx of international students grew, and the USSR was able to welcome students from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
The Soviet Union needed to establish a plan for teaching international students practically from square one. Departments for studying the Russian language were opened, and a methodological framework was worked out. It’s not surprising that by 1990 the USSR came in third (behind France and the United States) in number of international students. And this number was cut by more than two-thirds after the break-up of the USSR in the following year.
This situation started to improve only at the end of the 1990s. Today the government allots 15,000 state-financed positions every year to international students, and the overall number of foreign students in Russian institutions of higher education is nearly twice the number in 1990. Significantly, the number of international students has also been consistently rising every year.
Of course, the majority of these students come from CIS countries, where Russian higher education has traditionally occupied an important place. In comparison, the number of students coming to study in Russian from the European Union is relatively low. Nonetheless, it is significant that there was also a 40% increase in this category over the past year. Meanwhile, the number of students from India rose by 20%, and the number from China rose by 10%.
Considering the harsh conditions of the international market, it is necessary to make Russia’s schools significantly more competitive in order to increase the demand for Russian higher education among foreign students. In 2013 Vladimir Putin signed an order “On Measures for Realizing State Policies in Education and Science,” which stipulates that five Russian institutions of higher education will enter the Top 100 of world universities by the year 2020.
On 8 March 2017, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) published the results of an authoritative objective rating. Three Russian universities were all rated among the 50 best universities of the world: Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, and Novosibirsk State University. As the Minister of Education and Science, Olga Vasileva, declared in an interview with the TASS news service, “our nation’s higher education demonstrates a high level of preparation: Russian institutions have made serious steps toward taking leading positions in various disciplines.” Russian schools are traditionally strong in physics and astronomy. Lomonosov Moscow State University entered the top 50 universities in seven different subject areas. For instance, it took the 13th position for the linguistics major, which was an improvement of four positions from the previous year.
To help realize the “5 in the Top 100” project, the website StudyinRussia
was set up a year ago with all the information necessary for someone who wants to pursue a degree in Russia. “Our goal is not only to attract international students to the schools involved in this project, but also to make Russian higher education a unique brand on the internet,”
the director of StudyinRussia, Tatiana Sivakova, told Russkiy Mir.
The demand for this type of information can be judged by the fact that during the first year of this site’s existence, it received nearly 390,000 unique visitors from 208 countries. “The advantage of our site is that it conveys unique and useful content in a way that is simple and accessible for a foreigner. What’s more, it’s available in four languages (Russian, English, Chinese, and Spanish) and has full step-by-step instructions for applying to a school. The process for applying in Russia can often be complicated and confusing, so we describe all the pitfalls in detail,” says Tatiana Sivakova.
In 2015 Sociocenter, an autonomous research center affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, conducted a massive study in order to figure out why foreigners were choosing to study in Russia. Interestingly, 27% responded that the main criterion in their decision was the high quality of Russian education, and 24% noted the reasonable price of this education (which is also important). At present, the price of studying at a Russian institution varies from 65 thousand to 350 thousand rubles a year.
The most popular institutions among foreign students are the People’s Friendship University of Russia, Saint Petersburg State University, and Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. Interestingly, the fourth spot in this rating goes to the V.I. Vernadsky Crimean Federal University. Moscow State University comes in only fifth. It’s also important that the ten most popular universities include several regional institutions: Tomsk Polytechnic University, Kursk University of Medicine, Novosibirsk Research University, Kazan Federal University, and Belgorod National Research University. This is a clear indication that these areas can compete with the schools in Moscow and Petersburg in the level of education they offer.
In terms of concentration, international students studying in Russia primarily pursue engineering, followed by medicine, economics and government, and humanities and social sciences. Interestingly, 11.8% of these students pick the Russian language for their major.
The Russkiy Mir Foundation also participates in spreading Russian educational initiatives abroad. In particular, the Foundation provides support for international students from low-income backgrounds who have come to Russia as part of a state-supported program. Thus, in 2014 the Foundation compensated the travel expenses for six students from Nicaragua, nine from El Salvador, and 47 from Venezuela. At present, in fulfillment of a charge from the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, the Russkiy Mir Foundation is providing support for Cuban students who have come to study in Russia. This support includes travel expenses to Russia, a stipend, voluntary medical insurance policies, and dormitory expenses. In the 2015-2016 academic year 86 students from the Republic of Cuba took part in this program. Since October 2016 another 104 students from Cuba have come to study in Russia as part of the planned quota for the following way. As a result, the total number of Cuban students studying in Russian schools with financial support from the Russkiy Mir foundation is 190. Twenty-nine Russian institutions of higher learning cooperated and signed contracts in order to effectively support these Cuban students.