The benefits of the ‘near abroad’ – educational exchange in former Soviet states

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The ‘near abroad’ is a Russian conception, describing countries that used to be part of or have close ties to the Soviet Union, as distinguished from the ‘far abroad’ countries that we might otherwise call ‘the rest of the world’. Although Russian language usage is diminishing in Central Asian states, in part owing to state-building government tendencies to enhance the standing of national languages, Russian remains either an official or a widely used language in these countries (source: One World Nations Online).

The continuing importance of the Russian language enables the promotion of cooperation and opportunities in higher education for Central Asian states and nations. Just today I’ve read two reports on educational exchanges within the former Soviet sphere:

  • The development of linkages between Belarus and Tajikistan [en], as reported by Belarusian News. These government-level links began with professional development for Tajik civil servants and the most recent press release focusses on cooperation between the countries’ Academies/Institutes of Public Administration. The cooperation will cover research and conferences, training and staff/student exchanges, thus both sharing and building up expertise on both sides. (Just don’t mention ‘academic freedom’…)
  • A very proud-sounding press release from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, usually known by its rhythmic Russian acronym MGIMO, on its recent attendance at the Education and Careers Fair in Almaty, Kazakhstan [ru]. The report mentions participation by universities and employers from 15 countries, most of which are ‘near abroad’ but with a smattering of other countries thrown in.

Of particular interest about the MGIMO report was its note that attendees were particularly interested in its English language courses. This reflects the growth of a different kind of study abroad option for Central Asian students: one in which students enhance their academic and English language skills but in an environment that is not entirely unfamiliar. For many years the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan and KIMEP in Kazakhstan have supported students to stay in the region and to study in English; now it seems that trend is expanding with students seeking opportunities in Russia, eastern Europe and Asia (e.g Malaysia and Singapore).

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