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Higher education

Traditionally, higher education has been one of the priorities of the country and has contributed to the prestige of the Soviet Union and Russia abroad. The education of foreign students in Russian universities is an indicator of the country’s integration into the world community and today is a criterion for assessing the effectiveness of educational institutions in Russia. The education of foreign students in order to create an attractive image of the country has a long history. During Czarist Russia, in 1865, at a meeting of the Council under the Minister of Education, it was deemed appropriate to start training foreign citizens in Russian universities. Soon students from Bulgaria, Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, etc. came to study at universities in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa and at a number of other civil and religious educational institutions. The government of Emperor Alexander II appointed special state scholarships for them and foreign students were exempted from tuition fees. Nevertheless, the training of foreign students in the Russian Empire did not become widespread.

After 1918, the new Soviet government resumed inviting foreign students to study, and in the early 1920s, citizens ofTurkey, Persia, Afghanistan and Mongolia studied free of charge in the Soviet Union. In 1921, the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (KUTV) was established, where foreign citizens of 44 nationalities studied (Sheregi, Dmitriev and Arefiev, 2003). After World War II, in 1960, the world’s largest Peoples’ Friendship University, named after Patrice Lumumba, the first President of Congo, was established in Moscow to train foreign specialists. On the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were 126,500 foreign students in the USSR, which amounted to just over 10 per cent of the global number of foreign students, putting Soviet universities at third place in the world after American and French universities in the number of foreign students, according to UNESCO (UNESCO, 1972 and 1993).

With the economic and technical assistance of the Soviet Union, 66 higher education institutions (universities, institutes, university centres, specialized faculties and branches), 23 secondary special education institutions, over 400 primary vocational education centres and five secondary schools were established in 36 countries. The Soviet Union equipped them with modern educational and laboratory tools, provided research and methodological literature, and thus contributed to the organization of the educational process by the efforts of the Soviet specialists.

The collapse of the USSR destroyed the Soviet system of supporting foreign students’ education and more than 500 educational institutions in foreign countries created with the assistance of the USSR lost Russian support and passed to the guardianship of other states. According to UNESCO, in 1996, the share of foreign students studying in Russia had reduced to about 5 per cent of the world’s total number of foreign students (UNESCO, 1999). However, from 2005, attracting foreign students to Russian universities again became a priority for the Russian state, as a source of Russia’s soft power (Torkunov, 2012). This factor is especially important for the promotion of Russian influence in the countries of the former

Soviet Union, for whom the system of Russian higher education is familiar, which facilitates academic mobility. The Russian language continues to be the second most widely spoken language in these territories. Knowledge of the Russian language gives a competitive advantage for studying in Russia compared to students from other countries.

The number of foreign students in Russian universities is growing year by year. The total number of foreign students at the universities of the Russian Federation in the 2016/2017 academic year, increased by 28,600 (14 per cent), compared with the previous year, mainly from Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and from China and India. The largest contingents of full-time foreign students in 2016/2017 were from Kazakhstan (39,700), China (26,800) and Turkmenistan (17,300). The proportion of foreign students, funded by the Russian government, has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 2000s, from 23 per cent in 2003/2004, to nearly 40 per cent in 2016/2017 (Obuchenie, 2018).

In order to promote Russian education and science,between 2015 and 2018, the Russian government supported the participation of more than 120 Russian universities in 92 international exhibitions. It also assisted in establishing partnerships and major projects with world-leading universities and institutions by holding seminars in Italy, Slovenia, Germany, France and Cyprus on the development of the network of Russian schools abroad and the promotion of Russian educational technologies.

Within the BRICS context, Russian-Chinese cooperation in education is developing, with joint training of staff, encouraging young people to learn each other’s languages, supporting collaboration between educational institutions and increasing youth exchanges.The two countries have agreed to increase the target for student exchanges to 100,000 students by 2020. The number of Chinese students in Russia is constantly growing, due to long-term development of friendly relations between the two countries and favourable terms, including a low threshold for admissions and reasonable fees. Among all foreign students in Russian universities, the number of students from China - 22,529 in 2015-2016 - was the third largest after Kazakhstan and Ukraine, according to the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation (, 2017). There is also an active exchange of specialists and teaching personnel with China. The top universities of both countries, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Peking University have created a joint postgraduate school, with joint bachelors and masters in technical and humanitarian programmes (Karpov, 2013: 34).

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