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    Russia strengthening ties with Asia, will higher education follow?

    Greater commitment by Russia to foster relationships in Asia can be seen through Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visits to Asia and the nation’s active participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), various Free-Trade Agreements (FTAs) currently under development and other strategic initiatives.

    In China, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have committed to the enhancement of bilateral cooperation on international at the latest Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting. Both parties had also pointed out on the observed transition to a “multipolar world” without a single superpower such as the United States with a disproportionate influence on global affairs.

    Multipolarity plays a major role in the establishment of the SCO which consists of nations including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. The organisation serves to gather regional military leaders in the discussion of security issues, including in the promotion of cyber sovereignty, where states are allowed to guard their digital borders with censorship and content filtering.

    Further, relations between Indonesia and Russia have also been reinforced following the recent agreement by top officials to outline a new strategic partnership agreement in Moscow. This was in spite of the Plan of Consultation for 2017-2019 agreement inked less than a year ago between Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The agreement aims at highlighting dialogue between both countries through the advancement of trade, exchange of information and counterterrorism efforts. As Indonesia continues to play a more significant role in Asia, its strengthened relations with Russia may be significant in the bilateral and global domain.

    Both countries have not only recorded a 19.7 percent increase in bilateral trade in 2017 to $2.5 billion, with approximately 40 percent of Indonesian exports to Russia consisting of palm oil products; Russia has also offered a total 161 scholarship for Indonesian students in 2017 and is looking to further increase the numbers. This bilateral relationship has also underscored both nations’ strong cooperation in the defense sector.

    Other than China and Indonesia, Russia has also placed its focus on Vietnam, its oldest ally in Southeast Asia (SEA). At present, Vietnam is the only SEA country with which Russia enjoys very strong bilateral ties. The Russian-Vietnamese friendship has been time-tested and it can be further witnessed with Vietnam’s Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich’s latest visit to Russia. This move has highlighted the future dynamism both parties are looking at to strengthen relational ties.

    Vietnam and Russia have a defense relationship that dates back to the Cold War and progresses to the present day as Hanoi presses on to modernise its military and Moscow pursues a more substantial and visible defense presence in the broader Asia-Pacific.

    As Russia looks to strengthen ties within SEA and the broader Asia-Pacific region in terms of economic and defense relations, will higher education soon follow?

    In the case of Russia and the European Union (EU), both parties have acknowledged each other as key partners on the international scene and carry out several collaborative activities, and this include the area of education. The educational cooperation between both parties is based on the principles of the Bologna Process of the Council of Europe which Russia is a full member since 2003. This Europe-wide framework for higher education helps creates a “borderless world”. It allows individuals from participating countries to move freely between universities, jobs, industry and countries; thereby, creating parallel changes to the learning environments so that they meet changing needs of the workforce. Its primary objective is to enhance staff and students’ mobility and to promote employability.

    This framework has resulted in over 1.4 million students worldwide to opt for the pursuit of a higher education in Europe. There are also various opportunities for Russian students and institutions to benefit from the EU-Russia education cooperation. The student and academic mobility programmes in Russia has also contributed to the reinforcement of interpersonal relationships between Russia and the EU; and Russia remains among the leading non-EU participant countries in EU academic programmes.

    Can similar collaborative initiatives happen in Asia? With the global power shift to Asia, it has led to a change in international student mobility. Asia is set to disrupt higher education worldwide.

    Effective and goal-driven governance in Asia are some of the driving forces behind the increasing number of domestic and international enrollments in higher education. In 2016, China successfully hosted 442,773 international students (an 11.4 percent increase from 2015). The shift in economic and political power are critical factors for the change in students’ attention towards Asia.

    The shifting higher education landscape in Asia over the last decade, include massification, a focus on liberal arts education and great push towards the establishment of world class research have impacted universities worldwide. The large investment in world-class research within the region is another critical fundamental factor towards the transformation within the global higher education landscape.

    Similarly, Russia has recently implemented the Russian Academic Excellence Project (Project 5-100) – an initiative aimed strengthening the nation’s position as an outstanding place for education and research and to further improve its international competitiveness.

    With similar goals in place, both Russia and Asia can perhaps look to further strengthen their relations through higher education to advance their universities’ global rankings and competitiveness.

    Join us in the upcoming QS WORLDWIDE 2018 from 22-23 May 2018 in Moscow, Russia, as we discuss the topic on “In Search of University Excellence: Perspectives from Russia and Emerging Countries”

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