WENR, January 2008: Russia & CIS


Close Ties with China Prompt Opening of Confucius Institute

Officials from China and Kazakhstan in December celebrated their close cultural and political ties at an inauguration ceremony for the Confucius Institute at the Eurasia University in Kazakhstan. In his speech at the opening ceremony for the Chinese language and cultural communication center, Zhanseit Tuymebayev, Kazakh Education Minister, said that close cooperation between the two countries in the fields of politics, economy and culture has led to a growing demand for people proficient in the Chinese language. Eurasia University is the biggest comprehensive university founded after the independence of Kazakhstan, and 26 visiting heads of state have made speeches there.

The world’s first Confucius Institute opened in the South Korean capital, Seoul, in 2004. According to the Office of Chinese Language Council International, China will have 500 Confucius institutes by the end of 2010.

Xinhua [1]
December 7, 2007


British Council Closes Doors in Russia amid Political Tensions

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow was quoted by the BBC on January 3 as saying the British Council [2] offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg will stay open despite a Russian order to close them. The spokesman said that the British Council’s legal position in Russia is “rock-solid.” The council resumed work in Yekaterinburg on January 9 after the Russian New Year break, and the St. Petersburg office opened on the 14th. In response, the Russian government announced it would start filing to recover back taxes from the St. Petersburg office, refuse to renew the accreditation of diplomats who now work in its regional offices, and refuse to give visas to new employees. Two days later, officials suspended work and closed the St. Petersburg office, and a day after that, officials at the office in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg also suspended work.

The dispute over the British Council is widely seen as part of the continuing row stemming from the 2006 London poisoning of former Russian security agent Aleksandr Litvinenko. On January 3, Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying that “we have not raised the question of the British Council’s office in Moscow thus far, and this is an act of goodwill.” This was the first time that a Russian official made mention of the council’s Moscow office in the course of the dispute.

The non-governmental British Council first established an office in Moscow in the 1990s and went on to open a further 14 offices across Russia. In October the council said it would close all its offices in Russia apart from in Moscow, Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg, where Britain has an embassy and consular offices. The council said the decision was made due to a change in the organization’s global strategy.

January 4, 2008
Novosti [3]
January 9, 2008
Moscow Times [4]
January 15, 2008

New Central Asian University Looking to Break with Past

The sparsely populated mountainous regions of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will soon play host to an ambitious three-campus university being built with funding from the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim community. The University of Central Asia [5] aims to bring cutting-edge higher education and research to often overlooked regions of the former Soviet Union, with most higher education opportunities based in regional capitals, far removed from the inhabitants of isolated rural communities.

Bohdan Krawchenko, dean of the UCA, told the Times Higher Education Supplement that “the goal is not to be the best university in Central Asia because that is not a particularly difficult thing to achieve, but to be among the best internationally in the fields we want to offer. That is a very big challenge.”

Professor Krawchenko wants to build an institution that equips its students for the reality of life in the region. “We don’t want to educate for unemployment, which is the case in universities in Central Asia today,” he said.

“In Kyrgyzstan, 40,000 graduates hit the labor market every year, and more than 90 percent of them end up unemployed. That’s a big responsibility for us, and we are structuring the curriculum so that students will be very competitive in the labor market.”

The UCA’s academic programs have been drawn up with employability in mind, offering courses that should prove useful to the regional economies. Undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, research, distance-learning and economic development programs will be offered. Due to the difficulties associated with building a university in such remote regions of the world, the project is taking a long time to complete. Seven years have already passed since planning begun and the university is still not due to open until 2011.

The Times Higher Education Supplement [6]
December 14, 2007

Research Bonanza for Russian Universities Following Election

Following the convincing victory of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the December parliamentary elections, Russian universities have been promised a doubling of research funds, a promise that is likely to be kept with United Russia’s two-thirds majority in the state Duma.

Meeting with university leaders on the eve of the election, Putin promised to up government spending on science to US$16.5 billion by 2010 – double the amount spent this year. The money will be targeted at developing key fields including nanotechnology, bioengineering and nuclear physics.

University World News [7]
December 9, 2007


Russian Campus Ordered to Close

On January 18, the Tajik Economic Court ordered the closure of the Tajik branch of the Russian New University, saying that it is unable to meet Tajik educational standards due to a “shortage of [licensed] teachers.” An unnamed official of the Tajik Education Ministry confirmed that the closure decision followed a request by the ministry to take back the building housing the university in the city of Khujand, but added that the decision “does not mean that the university branch’s students have stopped their studies or teachers have lost their jobs.” The court ruling also ordered that the university’s students be “divided up among higher educational establishments” in the Sughd region. The Tajik branch of Russia’s New University was first established in 2001 and had a student body of more than 600.

RFE/RL [8]
January 22, 2008