The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Cultural Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) head Lyubov Glebova told Yulia Osipova of RIA Novosti how Russia intended to boost the number of foreign students.
Ms. Glebova, how many foreigners a year come to Russia for free university education?
Lyubov Glebova: During the last three years, Russia annually invites 15,000 foreign citizens to be educated for free at more than 400 Russian universities.
In 2016, the enrolment is absolutely open to everybody for the first time. We've analyzed recruitment formalities in foreign countries and launched an open online application process. The admittance procedure is practically the same, albeit simpler and more transparent, with one-stop data input and fast selection. The website makes it possible to dispense with a lot of intermediaries who used to sponge on the process.
Citizens of 198 countries can send applications to study in the most different disciplines, from medicine to technology, including nuclear physics. There is a separate category for Russianists, linguists and philologists. Russian and things Russian are in high demand everywhere.
What does a foreign citizen have to do to apply for a Russian governmental scholarship?
Lyubov Glebova: He or she should register on the www.russia.study website. The procedure takes about 20 minutes and consists of two simple steps: you confirm your identity and open an e-mail box. The latter is needed to maintain rapid and reliable liaison with a potential applicant. Whether he or she reacts promptly to messages depends on his or her interest in receiving an education.
After verification, a candidate is allowed to access a questionnaire, in which he or she enters his or her personal details, data on educational background, personal achievements, while indicating a preferred area of study. To these, a cover letter must be attached. The completed questionnaire is added to a general list for a country. Then an operator in this or that country (each country has an operator of its own) makes a preliminary selection of candidates.
Have you made provisions for a competitive selection to rule out a situation where some not very gifted foreign citizens may take the place of quite promising Russians?
Making the final choice is up to a commission that includes representatives of Russian Centers of Science and Culture, embassies, local education ministries and public organizations. Currently we are negotiating with universities so that they, too, send their staff members to these commissions.
This is a pilot year: the selection procedure will include an interview or testing. But next year we are planning to transition to full-scale evaluation of candidates based on school academic competitions and tests. We'll have specific rankings for each country. Russian university-level academic competitions in foreign countries will be yet another element of the selection procedure. Rossotrudnichestvo is working to make them relevant and mutually complementary.
What will those who don't make the cut do?
Lyubov Glebova: Even if a foreign citizen fails to win a scholarship spot, he or she will be offered to study out-of-pocket. Given that a year course in many Russian universities is anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 euros, many may be interested in this option as well.
Where do the universities step in? How is a chosen candidate enrolled?
Lyubov Glebova: After being selected, a candidate can choose six universities he or she would like to attend and puts them in order of preference. Next each university opens user accounts and opts in favor of this or that aspirant. If he or she fails with the first preferred university his or her details will be transferred to the second outlet on the list, and so on. In this way a candidate may reach the sixth university. But if applicants are turned down by all the six establishments, the Russian Ministry of Education and Science would offer them an alternative. Believe me, no one in this chain will be forgotten.
Is Russia competitive internationally as a country with a good system of higher education? What motivates people to come to Russia for an education?
Lyubov Glebova: First, Russia provides quality education in engineering, natural sciences, mathematics, philology and Russian studies. Russian medical education is immensely popular internationally, as are culture-related areas, such as Russian music, theater, and cinema. Even though the Russian education system faced hard times not so long ago, it is still highly valued everywhere in the world as fundamental, embedded and interdisciplinary.
Second, living and studying in Russia is cheaper than, for example, in Europe. Third, Russia is a leader for a number of countries. Many Russian-educated people now hold important posts in their home countries. Now that their children have come of age for university training, they are eyeing Russian education with much interest, being well aware that it is synonymous with a broad outlook, useful friendships and correct orientations. This refers not only to the CIS countries but also developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and certain European countries.
How will Russia benefit from this project?
Besides, the free education is extended not only to candidates seeking a bachelor's but also master's and post-graduate degrees. And this is a direct indicator of academic mobility and an element of student exchanges: universities are establishing contacts internationally. As for students who will pay for their own education, they are a tangible source of earnings for universities.
To be a student in Russia, you must have a command of Russian, which is not the easiest language in the world. Will you organize language support for foreign students?
Lyubov Glebova: Many Russian universities have preparatory departments, where a number of foreign citizens, who have no command of Russian — approximately 4,000 persons a year — receive language training for one year. But this course costs 100,000 rubles per year per person. The state loses money and people lose time.
For this reason, Rossotrudnichestvo plans to open, jointly with universities, preparatory departments, Russian schools and testing centers in foreign countries.
Are there many of those willing to accept the Russian free education offer?
Lyubov Glebova: We see a lot of activity: people make telephone calls, ask questions in social media, and register on the website. So far, the most interest is displayed by citizens of CIS countries, and this is quite expectable because the student recruitment news reached local Russian-speaking communities in no time.
Recruiting foreign citizens for free education in Russia is an annual, long-term project. We understand that it is an effective foreign policy tool and would like to increase the number of quotas for future years.