Build Not Burn

International educational cooperation in the face of economic and political constraints.

Anna Ivanova

The Gaidar Forum, the so-called Russian Davos, takes place 15-17 January in the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). This forum has already become a tradition, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The event brings together leading authorities, governors, scientists, and businesspeople from all over the world. “Sessions of the Forum are focused on the most pressing issues of the modern times, a special emphasis is placed on topics related to the insight of the situation and strategic role of Russia in the world,” explained the Gaidar Forum organizer. 

One of the sessions that grabbed my attention was dedicated to international education within an environment of sanctions. This was a discussion between high level experts such as deans of institutes, the First Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, Directors, Vice-rectors, and even ambassadors.

Sanctions cannot be spread to education – this was the idea which ran like a golden thread through the whole discussion. Mikhail Shvydkoy, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cultural Cooperation, mentioned that Russia is a part of Europe, and three pillars – education, culture, science are independent of politics. “We are fully open for cooperation in these spheres,” he said. 

“Science brings nations together,” stressed Grigory Trubnikov, First Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation in the beginning of his speech. Countries cannot make significant breakthroughs alone – we need to cooperate to achieve more within the shortest time. Mr Trubnikov also mentioned the importance of educational ratings and indexes – this is how universities can become more appealing to international students.  The First Deputy Minister shared Russian government initiatives which were made to support international mobility. For example, there are many research institutes and centers for specialists in physics, mathematics, and chemistry in Rusia. 

Coming to foreign speakers, their main idea was to support and develop, again, international mobility. Pasquale Terracciano, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Italy to the Russian Federation, spoke a lot about Erasmus Mundus – an integrated, international study programme, mentioning that fostering relations and turning mirrors into windows is essential. His fellow Italian colleague, Franco Frattini, President, Institute for Eurasian Studies, expressed the idea that cultural identity is something not to be forgotten –  even though countries integrate, they need to keep up traditions. 

Focusing on more practical issues than just theories, Regina Veronica Maria ‘Renée’ Jones-Bos, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Russian Federation, mentioned the importance of the English language. She shared the successful experience of the Netherlands to make English language compulsory on all levels of the Dutch secondary education system. “We were one of the first countries to offer university programs in both Dutch and English languages. This is how we made the education internationalized”. Thus, the country attracts specialists from all over the world, apparently, greatly benefiting from that. 

In summary, sanctions cannot be allowed to influence international education. Politics and economics are on the other side of the road, education, science, and culture on the other. Only together we can face the challenges of the future. Build, not burn.