[lg policy] Russian Universities Beckon Again to Young Mongolian scholars

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 1 14:51:29 UTC 2013

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  Mongolia: Russian Universities Beckon Again to Young Scholars
 May 29, 2013 - 2:19pm, by Matthew

   - Mongolia <http://eurasianet.org/resource/mongolia>
   - Russia <http://eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/2346>
   - EurasiaNet's Weekly Digest <http://eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/3279>
   - Education <http://eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/2921>
   - Russia-Mongolia Relations <http://eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/4175>

  [image: Russian universities are attracting more Mongolian students
seeking an affordable higher education outside their own country. (Photo:
National Mineral Resources
   Students attend an International Forum-Competition of Young Researchers
at Russia’s National Mineral Resources University. The school has attracted
some Mongolian students, even as Russia has upped the number of
scholarships for Mongolians seeking an affordable education abroad. (Photo:
National Mineral Resources University)

When Munkhtsetseg Enkhbat, a Mongolian language instructor at the National
University of Mongolia, wanted to expand her knowledge in the related field
of Manchurian linguistics, she decided to go abroad. But instead of heading
to China, she enrolled in a doctoral program in Russia.

That decision might seem strange on the surface, but it made perfect sense
to Enkhbat. “This is a center of Mongolian studies, and a Manchuria expert
works here,” she said, referring to St. Petersburg State University, where
she is doing her doctoral work. “Many famous scholars in this field spent
their whole lives doing research in this university.”

Russia has traditionally been a magnet for Mongolian students seeking a
higher education. Since 1922, over 60,000 Mongolians have obtained degrees
in Russia, according to the Kremlin-sponsored Russian Center of Science and
Culture in Ulaanbaatar. But since the collapse of communism, these ties
have frayed, as a growing number of Mongolian students headed to Asia and
the West for their higher education. Russia is no longer Mongolia’s only
ally and link to the outside world.

In Mongolia these days, English has replaced Russian as the main foreign
language taught in schools and universities. Interest in the Russian
language has plummeted. In the 1990s, the country began retraining
Russian-language teachers to teach English. In 2004, then-Mongolian premier
Elbegdorj Tsakhiagiin, now the president, expressed a desire for everyone
in the country to speak English. He later refined this idea into a more
realistic national English curriculum, but the message was clear: English,
not Russian, was the language of the future.

Despite these changes, Russia remains a destination for some Mongolians
seeking an affordable higher education. And with Mongolia experiencing a
major mining boom and rapid economic development, anecdotal indicators
suggest that a Russian education is desirable again.

Ulambayar Dashkhorol, 21, went to St. Petersburg from Ulaanbaatar four
years ago to study geology at the National Mineral Resources University. He
followed what could be called a family tradition: his father works as a
geologist, both his parents speak Russian, and he even attended a
Russian-language high school in Mongolia. In this sense, he is different
from many Mongolians who grew up after 1991.

In the past few years, there have been signs that other Mongolians are
following Dashkhorol’s lead. When he first arrived in Russia in 2009, he
could practically count the number of Mongolian students studying in his
university on his two hands. Today, he says, numbers have increased three-
or four-fold. Dashkhorol has no doubt that the increase is tied to the
mining boom, but he notes that there are other factors that make Russia

“Our country isn’t very well developed,” he said. “Education in Mongolia
just isn’t as good as it is in Russia. Here there are excellent teachers
and technical colleges.”

It also helps that Dashkhorol studies for free. In recent years, the
Russian government has increased the number of scholarships it provides
Mongolian students to 300 annually (250 for undergraduates and 50 for
graduate students). At any given moment, there are approximately 2,000
Mongolians studying in universities across Russia, for free. Several
Mongolian students in St. Petersburg say they hardly know anyone who is
paying his or her own way in Russia.

Yevgeny Mikhailov, the director of the Russian Center of Science and
Culture in Ulaanbaatar, sees growing competition for scholarships. “Judging
by the quantity of applications from young Mongolian men and women, we can
see an increase in the number of young people who would like to receive an
education in Russia and who would like to study Russian,” he wrote in an
email to EurasiaNet.org.

A chance to study for free is not the only thing that attracts young
Mongolians to Russia. Odkhuu Bulgantamir, 28, a master’s student in geology
at the Mineral Resources University, was also impressed by Russia’s
significant experience in mining and his university’s 240-year history. “If
you know Russian, if you know a foreign language, another door to the world
will open for you,” he added.

Bulgantamir is unsure whether Russian education will gain popularity as the
Mongolian economy grows. He’s not the only one with doubts. Mongolian
students admit that there are practical difficulties that come along with
studying in Russia. Russian cities are expensive and students struggle to
stretch their stipends to cover basic needs. And they are not allowed to
work while studying. China, a country that also offers government
scholarship for Mongolian students, allows them to work; the cost of living
there is far cheaper, too.

The main test of Russian education may not be the cost or the popularity of
the language, but whether the students feel they are getting a good
education. For the most part, it seems they do. Even Enkhbat, who admits
she has struggled to adapt to St. Petersburg and learn the Russian
language, feels her decision placed her in an ideal academic environment.
“Russia is one of the main sources of academic and scientific knowledge in
the world,” she said. “The professors and researchers I work with here are
Mongolia experts. They relate to me well and really understand me.”


Forwarded from EurasiaNet's weeklydigest

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