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MOSCOW, January 21 - The Russian authorities have decided to continue a tradition that arose back in the early 17th century under Tsar Boris Godunov to send talented youth to study abroad. The Education and Science Ministry and the Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI, a government-founded nonprofit organization), announced on Monday the launch of the Global Education program that will make it possible for Russians to study in the world’s best higher educational establishments at the expense of the state budget.
In December 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on measures to strengthen Russia’s human resources potential. In line with the document, the government should develop measures to support Russians who entered leading foreign universities on their own. The list of the educational establishments should be published in three months.
Deputy Education and Science Minister Alexander Klimov said it was to be assumed that it would largely coincide with the list of universities whose diplomas are recognized in Russian territory. The establishments include Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Oxford, Cambridge, the National University of Singapore etc. The list containing 210 higher educational establishments is likely to be complemented by medical universities.
Russian nationals who received a Bachelor’s or specialist’s degree in Russian or Western universities will be able to take part in the Global Education program. Participants have to independently enroll for a Master’s program, postgraduate education program or residency training in leading Western higher educational establishments for professions required in Russia. These in particular include scientific, pedagogical, medical personnel, engineers as well as executives in the social sphere.
The program is designed to run in 2014-2016 as a pilot project. A total of 3,000 Russian nationals are to go through it over these three years. After online registration, funds will be allocated to those receiving education on a "first come, first served" basis.
There are no age restrictions, Alexander Klimov explained. “Related expenses, expenditures on accommodations and acquisition of teaching aids will also be compensated from the budget,” he said.
The government will allocate 1.5 million rubles ($44,230) annually to pay for education and accommodations of each program participant. Should the education cost more, the participants will have to pay the remaining sum from their own funds.
Once the education is completed in one to three years, the graduate should return to Russia and work for three years at an enterprise or in an organization whose list will be approved in the next few months. These would be high-tech sector enterprises, as well as scientific, educational and medical organizations. A list of employers containing hundreds of positions open for the program’s graduates will be published.
“We would like at least half of the positions to be in Siberia or in the Far East to distribute labor resources countrywide,” ASI Young Professionals department director Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
According to Peskov, experts had to answer three difficult questions when developing materials for the program: How to interest the program participants to return to their homeland after their studies are over? How to include ordinary Russians, not children of senior officials, into the education program? What is the most useful way to employ their potential later?
As a result, organizers introduced a 200-percent fine and a requirement to reimburse all education costs for those who fail to return. The measure would be enough to send another three people to study abroad.
“We hope that for these three years that the program participants will have to work in Russia they will be able to build such a career that they won’t need to leave for the West,” Peskov said.
“Even if a person studied in Harvard and then found a job in a European or American company, there are mechanisms to make the company pay the fine for him. Unless a Harvard or Oxford graduate suddenly runs away to the Amazon jungle,” ASI Director General Andrei Nikitin commented.
Experts have mainly welcomed the authorities’ initiative.
“Some Russian higher educational establishments may be upset at the news some of their students may leave them, but this is positive competition: competing with the world’s key educational institutions, in this way we develop ourselves,” the Kommersant daily quotes Sergei Myasoyedov, vice-rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, as saying.
According to the rector of the Higher School of Economics, Yaroslav Kuzminov, the number of program participants should be a lot more - tens of thousands a year - for tangible changes in the economy. “But I still support the program as it makes the window to Europe wider,” he says.
Students who already study abroad say talented Russians may not pay European universities at all, as there are numerous grants. “I have not heard any of my 20 acquaintances who applied for foreign Master’s or postgraduate programs say they were unable to go due to financial constraints,” says Mikhail Yevtikhiyev, a graduate of the St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University, who studies high energy physics in Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. He was not interested in the program, saying: “Participation requirements now look too tough and are linked to an absolutely unclear future.”
The practice of sending students to study abroad at the expense of the state was introduced in 1602 by Boris Godunov, who sent 18 noblemen to England, Germany and France. In 1696, Tsar Peter the Great issued a decree on education of young noble people abroad. Some 1,000 people studied abroad under Peter the Great’s rule. In the 18th century, there was a similar practice under Empress Catherine the Great. Young people were also sent to receive an education abroad in Soviet times.
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