From Lebanon to Russia: Exploring Study Opportunities in the 90s

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Mohammed Abud, once a graduate of St. Petersburg Mining University, now a professor at the Lebanese International University, is one of the only four geodetic engineers with academic credentials in the whole country of Lebanon. He believes the shortage of highly-qualified surveyors is the problem his home country has to deal with.

Mohammed was born in a small town, not far from Beirut. He was living there with his family until after graduating from school he moved to the capital. There the Lebanese fellow entered the Faculty of Advanced Mathematics at one of the local universities. Having studied for a couple of years, he, however, realized he would have neither financial success nor career opportunities if he did not change the field. Mohammed wanted to study something similar, related to hard sciences. Still, he wanted it to be the profession in demand. And so he decided it would be geodesy. 

“In the early 90s, in Beirut, like in many other cities affected by the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990, wide-area reconstruction works only started. And although there were plenty of builders in the country, geodesists were almost non-existent. There was also no higher education institution where one could study surveying. The only option left was to explore international study opportunities,” says Professor Abud.

“By that time, my brother had already returned home from the Soviet Union upon completing his degree studies. He was actually quite fond of the quality of education and suggested I set off to Russia too. Another reason was that many European universities were not ready to accept international students in the field of my interest. My speciality involves working directly with maps and thereby requires access to the precise location data, which was restricted back then. Luckily for me, Russia was one of the first countries in the world to have declassified that information. And the only Russian university offering geodetic education was St. Petersburg Mining University. I was admitted to it on a fee basis in 1994 and thereupon left Lebanon,” recalls Professor Abud.

Higher education in Russia is cheaper than in Lebanon. But what is more important, there is only one state university in the Lebanese Republic. An annual fee for studying in it is not that high; currently, it equals approximately $400. One university cannot nonetheless provide study places for all high school graduates. Therefore youngsters are forced into applying to private universities. Yet not every family can afford to pay as much as $7000-8000 per study year. 

Lebanese students who were granted a study quota by Rossotrudnichestvo, an organisation responsible for promoting Russian education services abroad, do not pay for their studies in Russia. They need to pay for accommodation and transportation, though. The sum of both combined varies between $625-1250 per year, depending on the comfortability of dorm rooms. Fee-based education in Russia is not pricey either; in fact, it may be cheaper than in Lebanon. For instance, a study fee for one academic year at Mining University is equivalent to roughly $3,400.

As the Professor notes, “I commenced my studies in the 90s, and it was a good time. The Soviet Union had already collapsed, but the Soviet school of thought was still strong. At the same time, the education system was going through intensive modernization. Academic books and scientific journals of international authors that were unavailable before the fall of the USSR, industry-specific software – we had it at our disposal.”

“Upon return home after graduating, the knowledge and skills I gained throughout the years of studies earned me a job in a large corporation. I opened up my own surveying company too, which is actually still afloat and profitable. A year later, I read in a local newspaper that the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation was issuing quotas for Lebanese citizens on free-of-charge postgraduate studies. Since I wanted to advance my career and was at the same time dreaming of becoming a teacher at university, I submitted documents and soon returned to my alma mater,” says Professor Abud.

When Mohammed, already the PhD graduate, returned home, he was offered to establish the Department of Surveying and Mapping at the Lebanese International University and head it. Now the university he keeps working at, with the addition of another one, is offering both Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in surveying and mapping. But if a student would like to pursue postgraduate studies, there is still no other option but to study abroad. Hence Professor Abud advises his most talented students who wish to continue their education to leave for Russia.

As the Mining University’s graduate notes, “Four of my graduates are studying at Mining University. In a few years, they will be hopefully back home. Since Lebanon graduates with a PhD in land surveying are so rare, here they have an almost limitless choice of careers. They can become university teachers or advance science and carry out research activities. Finally, they can find work as consultants in a variety of different fields. This way, young specialists can make themselves useful for Lebanon’s society in different ways.”