Russia’s Prodigious Gift of Higher Education to the Developing World

People’s Friendship University of Russia

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, Jan 28 2020 – Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia – popularly known as RUDN (acronym from its Russian name Rossiysky Universitet Druzhby Narodov) – is a renowned, world-class educational and research institution in Moscow.

It celebrates its 60th Anniversary from 5-7 February culminating in a grand concert at the Kremlin Palace of Congress presided by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

In keeping with Russia’s socialist tradition of helping developing countries, Premier Nikita Khrushchev opened this University in 1960 – just less than half a century after the 1917 Russian revolution, and less than two decades after the World War II that ravaged the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) with a loss of over 27 million of its people.

Events of historical significance

By 1960, Russia was a thriving economy with marvels of industrialization, advances in science, technology and medicine, escapades into outer space, and basking in the glory of a Super Power.

Simultaneously, a mass decolonization was taking place liberating hundreds of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America – that desperately required qualified cadres to develop their countries. Russia stepped up to assist them – giving birth to the Peoples’ Friendship University.

Exponential growth

As a frequent visitor to the RUDN University since 1960’s, I have had the rare privilege of witnessing its radical transformation – the exponential growth of buildings, faculties, programs and Institutes, and its number of students.

In 1960, RUDN had 539 students from 59 countries in six faculties in different locations in Moscow. By 1964, it began to build a new campus to accommodate all faculties and students in one location – that has now grown into a mega-university.

When I defended my thesis in 1967, the dissertation committee consisted of seven eminent international jurists, chaired by Feodor Kozhevnikov, a former judge of the International Court of Justice. Even then – a high standard indeed.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was the first to recognize the high level of Degrees conferred by the Friendship University. With its well-recognized global rankings, Friendship University graduates with a Master’s Degree in any discipline could gain direct admission into PhD programs in Western Universities.

For example, I was admitted to the Hague Academy of International Law, and to PhD programs at the Vienna University, and the School of Law at the New York University purely on the grades of my Master’s Degree program but my workload and travel schedules at the UN disrupted my doctoral studies.

A mega-university

Today, the training of specialists at the RUDN University is carried out according to 472 programs of various levels of education, including 74 programs in foreign languages (English and Spanish) at the various faculties, institutes and academies of the University.

Among the phenomenal changes from my days in the 1960’s is that today you can follow many courses in the English medium. Regardless, all foreign students, after a year in Russia, speak fluent Russian.

RUDN has the best Russian language school in the world to teach Russian to foreigners. To date, its professors continue to teach Russian language to almost all foreign astronauts at the Cosmonaut Training Center named after Yuri Gagarin.

Another distinct improvement is the change in 1989 from a single all-inclusive 5-year Master’s Degree Program into a multi-tiered system of higher education.

Today, RUDN offers a variety of Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D degrees in 76 disciplines. It has more than 30 Master’s programs in English and Spanish languages, and has over 113 joint Master’s and double diploma programs with famous universities of the world.

RUDN University has about 480 cooperation agreements with universities in more than 90 countries.

Somar Wijayadasa in Moscow, in 2014, with Prof Aslan Abashidze, Dean of the Law Faculty of the People’s Friendship University of Russia

Rector of RUDN University

At the helm of this astounding university is its dynamic Rector, Prof. Vladimir Mikhailovich Filippov, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, and an Academician of the Russian Academy of Education. It is a great honor to have Dr. Fillippov as the Rector as he is an alumni (1973) of the Friendship University – for the last 15 years.

He was the Minister of Education of the Russian Republic (1998–2004), and has won many academic awards. Active in educational matters in Russia and abroad, he Chairs several educational Committees of UNESCO in Paris.

Moscow Campus: A city within the City of Moscow

The RUDN campus is located in the South-West of Moscow – about 20 minutes from the Kremlin and Red Square. It occupies 50 hectares (125 acres) and consists of 27 academic and hostel buildings, sport facilities and stadiums, a clinic and a diagnostic center, hundreds of scientific laboratories, a library, an International Club, a shopping center and 32 multinational cafés – all resembling a cosmopolitan city within the city of Moscow.

According to RUDN, the current “enrollment of students at the Moscow campus and at its Sochi Institute are about 33.5 thousand internal and external students, post-graduate students, residents and interns from 157 countries of the world”.

On average, about 9000 students live in the Moscow campus. The approximate distribution of students by country and region are: Asia – 2324; Latin America – 565; Africa – 1289; Middle East – 861; CIS and Baltic countries – 3510; and Western Europe – 349 students.

Referring to the vast multicultural composition of its student body, Rector Filippov says “our students not only obtain a university degree to fulfill their professional ambitions, but also gain invaluable experience in dealing with different cultures, and broaden their social and cultural horizons”.

Today, the University employs 2,800 highly qualified faculty members, including more than 600 doctors of sciences and 1,400 candidates of science, and about 150 foreign teachers. One noteworthy tradition that continues to date is the assiduous dedication of its professors who strive to ensure that all students excel in their studies, and graduate as well qualified professionals.

Let Knowledge Unite Us

In keeping with its motto “scientia unescamus”, the University unites people of different nationalities by means of knowledge. In that spirit, every year, the University admits nearly 2000 students from over 150 countries. Currently, over 150,000 of its graduates, including over 6000 doctors of science (PhD’s) work in 180 countries around the world.

Among its prominent graduates are: Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO; Michel Djotodia, President of Central African Republic; Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua: Hifikepunye Pohamba, Former President of Namibia; Bharrat Jagdeo, former President of Guyana; Porfirio Lobo Sosa, former President of Honduras; Yousuf Saleh Abbas, former Prime Minister of Chad; Karim Masimov, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, to name a few.

Its influential alumni include hundreds of ministers, judges, ambassadors, academicians, senior United Nations officials, and thousands of doctors and engineers and other professionals in hundreds of countries from Angola to Zimbabwe.

University graduates return to their countries – that have suffered for centuries under foreign rule and exploitation – to contribute not only for the scientific advancement of their countries but also to embark on their arduous struggle to win economic independence, develop their national economies, raise their cultural levels and identities, and achieve social progress.

That exemplifies Abraham Lincoln’s words “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next”.

A mini United Nations in Moscow

Having worked for 25 years in several organizations of the United Nations system – IAEA, FAO, UNESCO, WHO/UNAIDS – and most of my career representing these organizations at the UN Headquarters in New York, I can unhesitatingly vouch that the atmosphere in the Friendship University campus bears a resemblance to the United Nations in New York.

In 2014, my wife and I casually visited the University (as we always do when we are in Moscow) not realizing that the graduation ceremonies were in progress. The massive lobby of the main building was full of beaming graduating foreign students, their families, and Ambassadors of various countries.

That multi-national gathering – some dressed in their national costumes – and the jubilant atmosphere truly resembled a mini United Nations. As we were introduced to the gathering, many thronged around us asking questions about future employment prospects in UN Agencies.

The university has a cooperative and friendly attitude – one of respect and mutual assistance. Here everyone can make a «world tour» without leaving the campus. Traditions and customs, cuisines and garments, dancing and music – the whole world is in one Moscow street.

A beacon of hope for the world

Since 1960, RUDN has offered thousands of fully paid graduate scholarships in medicine, engineering, jurisprudence, and other sciences to provide vitally needed qualified cadres to develop those newly liberated nations. That is a magnanimous contribution – unprecedented in history.

As I pointed out earlier, over 150,000 RUDN graduates work all over the world, and in various organizations of the United Nations system. Each one of them – in their professions – prove the high standard of education they received, thereby, bringing enormous credit to Russia’s People’s Friendship University.

The golden axiom “education is the ultimate gift one can give a child” may have inspired Nelson Mandela to say “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

*Somar Wijayadasa, a Law graduate of the Friendship University was a Faculty Member of the University of Sri Lanka (1967-1972); worked for IAEA and FAO (1973-1985): delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly (1985-1995); and was the Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000.

When economics prevails over genocide

Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf is pictured during the ruling at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands on January 23, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS/EVA PLEVIER

By Tasneem Tayeb
Jan 27 2020 (IPS-Partners)

(The Daily Star) – Two days after the Interna-tional Court of Justice (ICJ) approved emergency “provisional measures” asking Myanmar to stop persecution of the Rohingya in all forms— including killing, raping, and destroying homes and villages—two Rohingya women died in Rakhine State when the Myanmar army shelled a village. One of them was pregnant.

While many celebrated the ICJ’s order of provisional measures, some—especially those who have witnessed the ineffectiveness of the ICJ’s repeated “provisional measures” to protect Bosnian Muslims in 1993—had been cynical about the ultimate outcome of such a measure. Their scepticism is yet to be proven wrong.

Despite the ICJ’s order, Myanmar—it seems—remains defiant with its genocidal intent against the Rohingya. And Myanmar has good reason for its intransigence.

First of all, while the ICJ’s order is binding, it is not enforceable; and in the face of Myanmar’s non-compliance, The Gambia (the country that brought the case against Myanmar at the ICJ) at best can approach the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for it to decide whether it will use its powers to force Myanmar to comply with the ICJ’s order. And here lies the advantage of Myanmar.

China and Russia—two of Myanmar’s major allies—are two of the five permanent members of the UNSC, which also includes the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Both these countries have in the past resisted the United Nations’ attempts to address the Rohingya issue. To refresh the memory: in March 2017, China and Russia blocked a UN Security Council statement that would have “noted with concern renewed fighting in some parts of the country and stressed the importance of humanitarian access to all effected areas”, as reported by news agency Reuters.

With deep economic and military ties with China and Russia, it is no wonder that Myanmar is safe and strong in the knowledge that the UNSC will not be able to induce it to comply with the ICJ’s verdict in the months and years to come.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Myanmar earlier this month and the signing of 33 memorandums of understanding (MOUs), agreements, exchange letters and protocols send a strong signal to Bangladesh and to the wider world about its strategic ties with the country. According to Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration data, in 2019 China was the second biggest foreign investor in Myanmar, accounting for 25.21 percent of investment in the country; Singapore was the biggest, making up 26.86 percent of the foreign direct investment Myanmar received in the same year.

On the occasion of Xi’s visit, a joint statement in Chinese state media said that China “firmly supports Myanmar’s efforts to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity in the international arena” and hopes for it to advance “peace, stability and development in Rakhine State.” Even if one does not read too much into these two lines, it would be difficult to misread China’s stance on the Rohingya issue.

During the visit, China and Myanmar also signed an agreement for the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) deep seaport project, a major town in the volatile Rakhine State that is at the centre of the Rohingya genocide.

China is not the only actor investing in Rakhine. The World Bank in 2019 came under heavy fire from international human rights bodies and non-government organisations (NGO) for its proposed USD 100 million development project in the conflict-riven Rakhine State titled, “Rakhine Recovery and Development Support Project”.

In a letter to the World Bank dated April 9, 2019, obtained by Reuters, more than a dozen Myanmar-based NGOs said, “It is difficult to imagine how meaningful recovery and development are possible in Rakhine without addressing the underlying human rights issues that currently impact every aspect of life for communities.” Despite World Bank’s assurance that, “The project is being carefully prepared so that it does not reinforce or perpetuate movement restrictions or other forms of segregation, and that it creates new openings for social cohesion and positive exchanges between communities,” how it is going to make sure of this remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s military ties with Russia have only strengthened over the years. In January 2018, Russia agreed to sell six Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets to Myanmar costing at least USD 204 million. The deal was announced during the official visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu to Myanmar in January 2018.

As late as August 2019, Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing paid a visit to Russia and during his stay, he visited the Irkutsk Aviation Plant Corporation that is assembling the six Sukhoi Su-30SM multi-role advanced fighter jets for Myanmar. Photos of him sitting in a cockpit next to a test pilot made quite a show of his trip to the plant.

Of course, warplanes are not enough; military personnel require training as well. Here too Russia comes to their aid –more than 600 members of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) were studying at higher military educational institutions in Russia in January 2018, as suggested by Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Lieutenant-General Alexander Fomin.

Apart from these economic transactions, around 60 foreign companies from around the world have ties with businesses controlled by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and the Myanmar Economic Corporation—two military-governed businesses in Myanmar. It is these two conglomerates that dominate the economic and commercial landscape of the country. To address this, the UN fact-finding mission in 2019 urged imposing targeted financial sanctions on companies linked with Myanmar’s military and suggested that foreign companies doing business with Tatmadaw-controlled corporations could be complicit in international crimes.

During the Rakhine State Investment Fair in 2019, Suu Kyi said, “Myanmar has opened up its economy to the world. We have been constantly adjusting our policies, rules and regulations to be in line with international best practices and to make the investment climate more favourable, predictable, facilitative and friendly. We want to establish a welcoming economic environment for all.” Unfortunately, it seems the welcoming environment is not inclusive of the Rohingya.

Given the scenario, it is not surprising that the world, including international bodies like the UN, has miserably failed to address, let alone stop, the genocide unleashed by Myanmar against the helpless Rohingya. Thousands of adults and children have been killed; millions forced to flee; and an unaccountable number of women and girls have been systemically sexually violated, impregnated and exposed to various sexually transmitted diseases by the Myanmar military. And the world watched the spectre unfold before their very eyes like an audience at a macabre movie screening.

While the world is busy exploring potential economic tie-ups with Myanmar, thanks to its vast untapped resources and strategic geopolitical importance, it is the Rohingya and Bangladesh that are bearing the brunt of Myanmar’s economic possibilities. While the ICJ’s verdict is a welcome move, without political will to hold Myanmar to account it will not yield any positive outcome for the Rohingya. Expecting much from it would be a folly. The 1995 Srebrenica massacre should serve as a reality check.

Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star.

Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh