А Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step. Part II
19.09.2017

А Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step. Part II: International Students at TSU

- Professor Galazhinskiy, here is one rather banal question that is, nevertheless, frequently heard outside the University, as well as inside it: “Why do we need to have international students in the first place?”

- In a way, it was easier for us when we did not have many international students. We did not have to learn English and write new programmes in it. But considering the modern circumstances, such strategy would not lead anywhere. International students are not the means to improve our ranking positions. For us, they are the marker of our global marketability. If people come to study here, it means, our programmes are in-demand and meet the international requirements. This allows us to achieve our geopolitical and economical goals.

TSU was established as a main research and education centre in Northern Eurasia that had to attract people of various cultures and trigger their acculturation. Today, it is vitally important for Russia not only to develop its own culture inside, but also to foster it outside the country, primarily in those countries, whose attention is sought on the global market: Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Mongolia, Laos, and Singapore. It has been known for a long time that people, who study abroad, remain loyal for the rest of their lives to countries where they went into higher education.

8.jpgWe deliberately try to attract children of those who studied in the USSR in order to keep the traditions and to develop their interest toward Russia. That will help Russian companies to find new international partners and to establish new enterprises. Our graduates will return home and will be able to work with us, knowing our mentality. This is a part of our geostrategic plan that is supported by the Ministry of Education and Science. 

The University, however, has its own economic policy that is aimed not only at efficient spending the funds we receive from the government, but also at making money. The money we get from our international students is a tangible profit. To make that profit, we must provide with competitive education programmes in English. These programmes are supposed to be interdisciplinary and represent state-of-the-art areas. This is very difficult, but we want to learn how to do it. There will not be too many of those programmes. The approximate number is 10. We have not solved all the problems connected with teaching in English yet. Launching international education programmes is a challenge marketwise. We need effective market strategies. We need to understand global trends. European universities have more budget places for international students. Germany has made its education free. Prices in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries are very low. And living standards are very high there. There are many factors we must take into consideration.

- You have already mentioned that the government supports the export of the Russian education. What has been done in Tomsk and the region in order to improve the quality of life of international students in our city? Do the local authorities understand that universities cannot solve this problem on their own?

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- They had this understanding before, but now they understand it even better. The strategy of developing a united campus has been discussed on the highest level recently. This year, about 4,000 international enrollees have entered all Tomsk universities. These numbers could be more impressive but there is a drag caused by a slow development of the infrastructure. This issue is of high priority for the regional government, because international students may influence the economy of Tomsk on a large scale. The region is ready to provide with land and all necessary communications for new premises.  

However, we can solve certain problems with the resources that are at our disposal at the moment. For example, it turned out that international students regularly face problems with their medical insurance. The agencies that make all the arrangements connected with their trip to Russia convince young people to buy insurance from them.

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Students do not buy insurance when they come here because they believe they already have it. In reality, their insurance from abroad is not valid in Russia. We had several situations when providing with medical care was difficult because of that. Olga Kobyakova, Rector of Siberian State Medical University (SSMU), proposed to develop an insurance package especially for international students. Such medical care, including assistance in language, can be provided at SSMU as it has all necessary equipment. Medical care and medical insurance are very important components of the quality of life. Even though our city was named one of the world’s 100 top student cities (https://www.topuniversities.com/city-rankings/2017), this status requires constant monitoring and proving.

This and many other issues connected with life in university cities will be discussed at the II International Forum of University cities that TSU will held in November 30 – December 2, 2017. We invite everybody who is interested in the matter (http://unicityforum.com/en/).

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- Do we know how to develop a basic strategy of exporting TSU’s education programmes?

- I believe that we can follow two strategies. The first is promoting unique TSU’s research schools. The second is working in collaboration with globally recognized universities and carrying out joint education programmes. We have such schools and partner projects but we should never stop looking for more. On the other hand, we should never lose our identity.  

- What is a general situation with receiving international students at TSU at the moment?

- The situation can be described as positive. It corresponds to the global trends I mentioned earlier. Last year, 709 international enrollees entered TSU. This year, we already have 898 students from 47 countries. And the enrollment is not over yet.

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- Are there any risks connected with the growing number of international students?

- There are some, but they are common for all Russian universities. On one hand, our lecturers do not have necessary level of English to provide with quality teaching. International students share their impressions in social networks and “anti-promote” education at Russian universities. On the other hand, when they learn and have lectures in Russian, they do not demonstrate necessary level of language either, despite the fact that they have a year-long language training and are capable of speaking at a simple level.

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Often, our lecturers are not sure if those who have good and excellent marks for their exams actually understand the content. Sometime, good academic achievements are the results of memorizing and hard learning. There have been cases when, at some Russian universities, international students offered money to their supervisors so that they wrote dissertations for them.

- How do we minimize the risks?

- Lecturers should learn English and pay special attention to working with international students. Maybe, change some requirements to writing assignments, including dissertations. The latter is supposed to be done not by a particular lecturer, but buy a university. We will deal with the issue in the near future. I think we will have an open discussion so that our lecturers can share their experience and find the most sufficient ways of working with international students.

On top of that, it is important to develop the Russian speaking environment for those who want to study in Russian, both, in classes and in everyday life. We have plenty of resources to arrange that, including art clubs and creative projects. Sports are another way to engage international students. We have an international football team at TSU. The members of that team learn Russian faster and easier than their fellow classmates who do not play football.

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- In other words, you do believe that we can overcome obstacles.

- Of course, we can. А journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step! Despite all the difficulties, the growing number of international students makes us very happy. Education and science are still the spheres of global collaboration. This is something that gives hope for a peaceful future.

I would like to congratulate all international and Russian students on the beginning of the new academic year and wish them new achievements and discoveries, as well as joyful communication with each other!

The interview with the Rector was conducted by Irina Kuzheleva-Sagan