Foreign Students In Russia Could Rise To 500,000 – OpEd


Amidst the geopolitical dynamics and diverse maneuvers to ensure stability at home, Russia has to show certainty, firmness and consistency in its relations with Africa. Understandably Africa has been at the bottom of its priority agenda, most official statements on pledges take years to achieve concrete results. There are also explicit indications that Russia is broadening and not deepening its influence in various areas. In terms of education and training, scholarships for potential African students is arguably low compared to Asia and Latin America. 

After the inauguration held on May 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin has set a goal to increase the number of foreign students in universities and educational institutions to at least 500,000 by 2030 in the Russian Federation.

“The number of foreign students pursuing higher education in Russian higher learning institutions and scientific organizations should rise to at least 500,000 by 2030,” according to his decree that sets national development objectives, making Russia appear among the world’s fifth largest developed nations.

As the current president entered his fifth term, Putin signed the new decrees after his grand inauguration held on May 7. The primary goal is also to resolve issues related to the special military operation, in addition to further improving the country’s socioeconomic situation for the population. The decree is titled On the National Development Goals of the Russian Federation until 2030 and for a Longer Term until 2036.

According to the Russian Education and Science Ministry, more than 355,000 foreigners are currently studying in Russian universities. Acting Minister Valery Falkov earlier said Russia has the world’s sixth-largest number of foreign students.

According to calculations by TASS News Agency, the number of foreign students in Russian universities has increased by more than 20% over the past five years. Most often foreign applicants accepted by Russian universities come from China, Vietnam, former Soviet republics, and countries in Asia and the Middle East.

The above TASS report has seriously overlooked Africa. This precedence of positioning Africa at the bottom of policy agenda could be found in many official reports. And sometimes, ignored completely. Africa has been and stil is at the bottom of Russia’s policy agenda, and has reflected in its economic projects undertaken and completed in Africa. Political dialogues are excellent and official visits forth and back increasingly proliferated. Conferences and meetings are abound, and reports are frequently issued.

The number of African students who receive education in Russia is approaching 35,000 people, according to RIA Novosti. According to Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education, Konstantin Mogilevsky, speaking at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in July 2023, informed that since the last academic year the Russian scholarship was increased to about 4,000 people.

“The present and the future of Russia-Africa relations is not about charity, it’s about co-development,” stated Evgeny Primakov, Head of the Russian Federal Agency for International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) and also a member of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the International Parliamentary Conference Russia – Africa in a Multipolar World, held in Moscow under the auspices of the State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly. Concerning education and training, Putin indicated that cooperation between Russia and African countries in education is at a traditionally high level. At the same time, the annual quota for state-funded scholarships at Russian universities would be more than doubled, he said.

Russia can target African students to boost its image and public perceptions in Africa, especially in this emerging new world. The significance here is to inculcate diversified cultural tolerance, take advantage of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism – aspects of modern life – which are necessary prerequisites for the emerging multi-polar world. Nevertheless, Russia largely lacks far behind with a well-structured public outreach diplomacy, using education and training young Africans in the developing world. 

In various ways, Russian educational institutions could open their doors to the growing number of African elites, estimated at 380 million, almost the same size of the United States and double the population size of Russia. As part of the renewed interest in Africa, Russia can work on opportunities and diverse ways to increase the number of students, especially tuition paying agreements, most possibly on subsidized forms, for children of the growing elite families and middle-class from African countries at Russian universities.

The system of higher education has always been and remains the powerful intellectual resource, generating new ideas and – this is what it was designed for, of course – to offer systematic training of labour for all areas of life in society. This serves as an investment into the achievement of the main target – training professionals that are in demand on the labour market.

With the youth’s education, experts are very critical. Gordey Yastrebov, a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne (Germany), argues in an email discussion with this article author that “education can be a tool for geopolitical influence in general, and for changing perceptions specifically, and Russia (just like any other country) could use it for that same purpose. However, Russia isn’t doing anything substantial on this front, at least there is only crawling efforts with obvious little outcomes. There are no large-scale investment programmes in education focusing on this.”

A series of credible reports from University World News explicitly show that Asian countries have become the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad with China being number one followed by the likes of India, Japan, Korea, and Israel, among others. For instance, India has also taken steps aim at building a more practical partnership in a number of spheres in the continent. New Delhi has a new set of opportunities in human resources development, information technology and education.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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