On the Russian-French Cooperation in Education and Science

Within the framework of the 9th Gaidar Forum, experts discussed the current condition and prospects of the French-Russian cooperation in education and science.

The moderators of The “Trianon Dialogue: Russian-French Cooperation in Education” expert discussion were Sergei Sinelnikov-Murylev, Scientific Director of the Gaidar Institute, Rector of the Russian Academy for Foreign Trade of the RF Ministry of Economic Development and Emmanuel Tric, President of the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis.

The Russian-French cooperation in education and science is characterized by a large number of joint educational programs, student and academic exchanges and joint research projects. Both the countries carry out multi-stage projects to promote their universities’ position in the international educational environment, including projects aimed at developing education exports. Network-based projects have become a promising format of the international educational cooperation, for example, the Russian-French University founded in 2016. The initiative of the Presidents of Russia and France marked the beginning of a new stage of networking between the two countries in the form of the Trianon Dialogue Civil Societies Forum. The key components -- education and science -- of this format will give impetus to development of new projects.

Participants in the forum discussed the strategy of promotion of Russian and French universities’ positions in the international educational environment; the role of universities in networking between Russian and French civil societies; new formats of cooperation amid globalization of education: network-based projects in higher education; experience of the Russian-French cooperation in education and science; and the Russian-French University as an instrument of training personnel for French companies in Russia. Also, an analytical report -- Russia and France in the Global Educational Space – was presented at the meeting.

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The debates were opened by Valentina Pereverzeva, RF First Deputy Education Minister who said that French experience in education was interesting to Russia. Also, Valentina Pereverzeva noted that Russia maintained more educational programs (over 200 agreements concluded between Russian and French higher educational establishments) with France than any other country.

In his address, Olivier Guillaume, French Embassy Counsellor on Culture and Education in Moscow says that along with prospects for cooperation there are three big challenges. First, the number of students in France is growing at the rate of about 4% per annum and this complicates the selection of international students. Second, France receives a large number of foreign students (150,000 a year). It means that we have to solve language barrier problems and issue dual diplomas. Third, it is important to find the correct balance between training and research. In our countries, these two things were separated from each other and it is necessary to unite entities which can put them together. For this purpose, top PhD students should be engaged. Summing up his report, Olivier Guillaume suggested that the topic of the next year’s debates should be “the University of Future”.

Pascal Cauchy, French Embassy Attache on Academic Cooperation in Russia presented his views on the state of cooperation between the two countries in education. He said that internationalization, including education and university-based research was an important issue. Another topical issue was mobility. Our countries amassed vast experience in receiving foreign students. The Soviet Union used to receive plenty of students from abroad, while during the colonial empire period foreign students sought to get education in France.

Pascal Cauchy believes that the language of training is very important and at present it remains unclear whether it should be done in the language of the recipient country or English. Also, some issues regarding compatibility of academic courses and funding remain outstanding. When thousands of students arrive, the financial issue is getting quite topical.

According to Pascal Cauchy, solutions can be found in development of special programs for foreign students, however, the issue of the language of training arises, so, it is to be decided whether additional language training is required.

Participation in the ratings makes us think what needs to be done. It is international competition. Russia faces these challenges, too, for example, the issue of universities’ relevant size. In France, mergers of universities can now be observed. Improvisation should be excluded from cooperation.

Educational establishments should identify the most efficient way of international cooperation, Pascal Cauchy concluded.

Emmanuel Tric, President of the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis elaborated on current changes in universities. He says that France is experiencing a revolution in education by analogy with the development of 1968. New methods of establishing foreign ties are a component of transformation; the cooperation is bound to grow.

According to Emmanuel Tric, France witnesses consolidation of 95 universities of which clusters are to be formed. It is expected that it would be easier for them to attract resources and promote the international cooperation. In addition, research and development universities should be linked to territorial development.

Igor Bartsits, Director of the Institute of Public Administration and Civil Service, RANEPA delivered a special report in which stressed that Russia received less than 1% of profits yielded by the global education market. He noted that Russia’ position in the rating was not very high. Though the education systems of Russia and France had very much in common, most joint programs were carried out at the level of the Master’s degree program. At present, the length of training programs and curricula are different in Russia and France and the number of students attending joint programs is small (maximum 10 persons per group). Historically, Russian universities were on the sidelines of the international cooperation, but now we hope for cooperation on equal terms with the world’s leading universities.

Igor Ganshin, Director of the International Department of the RF Ministry of Education and Science emphasized that the cooperation with France had always been important to Russia. The key word was the “dialogue”. One should remember that apart from different government agencies there was civil society. The cooperation was complicated to some extent by the fact that the parties involved did not have a good command of Russian and French, while learning these languages required much more time than that of English.

The RF Ministry of Education concentrated its efforts among other things on removal of administrative barriers, such as lifting of a ban on students’ work. Igor Ganshin believes that it is necessary to modify the regulatory base as regards provisions dealing with Russian language international sections. They are over 10 years old. At present, Russian language studies are gaining momentum in France.

Andrei Baikov, MGIMO Provost touched upon the experience of its university. From 1991, MGIMO has been cooperating with the Science Po University and learnt quite a lot of things from the French experience, particularly, those related to training of Master’s degree students.

Irina Dezhina, Leading Researcher of the Gaidar Institute spoke about the development of the Russian-French scientific cooperation in terms of the data of her own research. They carried out 39 interviews with Russian and French researchers working in various fields of science and asked them about how the cooperation started and why it stopped. Respondents were asked to identify the key problems and the main factors of such ties’ sustainability. According to the respondents, conferences and publications play a key role in formation of contacts as they help scientists learn more about each other’s research, while problems are mostly of financial and logistical nature. Also, the French side pointed out the publication pressing experienced by Russian researchers. It hindered the planned development of research. Finally, partnership sustainability is related mainly to the following two factors: the volume and length of funding (at present they are not large) and the knowledge of the language. It is known that communication in English is not feasible in all the fields of science, while for maintaining contacts the knowledge of your partner’s language is crucially important in social and cultural terms.

Dmitri Grishankov, General Director of the Association of Rating Representatives told the participants about the University’s Three Missions Moscow International Rating of Higher Educational Establishments prepared by his association. According to this rating, the Moscow State University occupied a much higher place than in more renowned international ratings. In calculations they did not take into account reputation indices, but relied only on the variable data and took into account the national specifics (for example the number of winners of academic competitions and other).

Then, Vladislva Grib, Head of the Civil Society Department, MGIMO took the floor. He emphasized the important role of scientific non-governmental associations as components of the civil society. Selin Daven, Deputy General Director of the NEOMA Business School touched upon the role of the French business in education. In particular, she said that her organization could act as an educational consortium to carry out research into what Russian and French enterprises actually needed.

During the debates, the French side pointed to growing problems related to French businessmen’ arrival in Russia due to a visa regime, complicated search for partners in Russia, as well as difficulties related to doing business in some Russian regions and organization of onsite training at Russian enterprises. However, the conclusion was optimistic: the business cooperation must go on.

Summing up the results of the session, Alexander Radygin said that participants had a very useful exchange of opinions and identified obstacles to be taken into account and surmounted by joint efforts. He stressed that the formats of bilateral cooperation were constantly expanding and that was very positive.