Graduates Embrace The Brain Train As They Study Abroad

The Hague University of Applied Sciences

Russian students from cities big and small are opting to study in The Netherlands. And while the numbers are still a fraction of the total of Russians studying abroad, it is growing despite the global financial crisis.

About 600 Russians are on short courses or traineeships compared to 200 Dutch students traveling in the opposite direction. Half of these are business studies students, the rest split between social sciences and humanities, engineering and research. That's according to Nuffic Neso, an independent non-profit organization based in The Hague that aims to internationalize Dutch education and training, and increase access to higher education abroad. The organization took part in the Dutch Days Of Higher Education exhibition in Moscow and St. Petersburg on the first weekend of October.

Despite a fall in the number of scholarships due to the crisis, the number of Russians gaining first degrees, Masters' or Ph.Ds abroad has risen. According to the Open Doors survey by the International Institute of Education, more than 4,800 Russians studied abroad in the last academic year, an increase of about 100 on the year before.

On their return to Russia, many join the The Netherlands Alumni Network in Russia (NANR), which has about 1,000 members, most of them under the age of 40.

Nuffic aims to stimulate cooperation between Russian and Dutch universities and it currently supports 100 joint programs, study exchanges and research projects. Dutch universities exchange not only students, but also course materials. For example, Duke Mejia, lecturer in Russian Studies and Culture at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, gives lectures around Russia on the cultural relations with The Netherlands, tailoring her presentation to different oblasts, like Yaroslavl, Leningrad and Pskov.

Under another program, Dutch students learn Russian and visit Russia for six months. Later they continue their studies in The Netherlands but with an internship with a Russian or an international firm. Many of these former students now work in Russia.

Jacqueline van Marle, senior advisor marketing and communications at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, says the university is looking for Russian partners. The university offers Bachelor's and Master's degrees entirely in English but van Marle says an international education is about more than languages.

"We made it a requirement a few years ago that all Dutch students must learn their profession in an international setting, whether your are going to be an engineer working for an oil company or even if you plan to spend your life in The Netherlands.

"Internationalisation must be built into the curriculum and not just soft skills, which can be superficial and counterproductive if you bring different nationalities together without understanding the cultural differences and skill sets. We bring students together with courses such as robotics. It is not just about how the robot works but how you are going to sell this product internationally."

The Netherlands has 39 universities of applied science and 14 research universities. Dutch students do exchange the compliment: studying at Russian universities and taking internships with Russian companies. But the numbers is smaller by approximately two thirds.

The Russian government has since 2009 been discussing a plan to educate up to 10,000 Russian students abroad each year. But the program has been delayed by worries about how to force graduates to return to Russia. Charles Hoedt, director of Nuffic Neso Russia, says the Russian government should not worry about students remaining abroad. Most of them will return eventually and the longer they stay abroad, the richer their experience.

Hoedt dismisses talk of a brain drain and instead calls it a brain train: "Dutch people leave and work abroad but they are ambassadors for The Netherlands." In the process, his organization Nuffic, which was a niche of the education sector, is now seen as valuable part of trade and economic development, even at government level.

The plan to send students to study abroad, at a cost of $165,000 for the first three years, has been delayed by wrangling over how to compel students to return to Russia to work for a minimum of three years after graduation or pay back grants, travel, and living costs.

As for foreigners studying in Russia, under government education reforms the best universities will also get more federal money for incoming international students. In the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan has allocated $1,000,000 in grants to foreign I.T. specialists who conduct research in Tatarstan.

The number of Dutch studying in Russia is a third of the traffic in the other direction, and is limited mainly by the small proportion of lectures in English.

Dutch Degree Paves The Way For Career Success

Olga Lukyanova graduated from the Russian State Agricultural University in Moscow and, through the Erasmus Mondus program, won a grant to study in one of several European countries. She chose The Netherlands.

Nuffic Neso

Russian alumni who studied in The Netherlands preparing for the Dutch Days of Higher Education in Moscow.

Olga Lukyanova graduated from the Russian State Agricultural University in Moscow and, through the Erasmus Mondus program, won a grant to study in one of several European countries. She chose The Netherlands.

"Our university has good relations with European ones and I had heard about Wageningen University and Research Centre. Not only is it a prestigious university but it also has good social and sports activities and an international environment." She studied a Ph.D in agricultural economics in The Netherlands in 2009-2010.

"I found a very supportive environment, in which people were willing to provide any information or help with housing, living conditions and letters of reference when I left."

The university was integrated into the business environment, holding meetings with Dutch companies and farmers. The teaching process demanded that students support their opinions with evidence but it was not about being right or wrong. There was also a strong focus on teamwork. Once graduates move into the workplace, they are often paid to continue their research, or given time and support to complete their thesis. This culture of support extends to corporate customers, who are provided with information, training and advice.

When she returned to Russia, Lukyanova joined the Netherlands Alumni Network in Russia (NANR) that brings together current, former and prospective students. They have the chance to meet educational institutions and Russian and Dutch companies and take part in charitable activities.

There was no such organization when Olga had left for The Netherlands but she soon got involved upon her return and later took the post of chairlady. She makes speeches and represents the organization. All of these are skills that she polished in The Netherlands. NANR even organizes welcome back events for students and alumni who are returning to Russia.

NANR keeps a database of resumes of its alumni and posts jobs on its website Most alumni work in communications, management or finance but other opportunities include medicine, architecture, research or teaching. It also helps companies find people with particular technical skills and languages. Most Russian alumni of The Netherlands speak English but some also learn Dutch and Lukyanova is continuing her Ph.D and Dutch language studies in Moscow.

She began working for a Russian-Dutch joint venture and later joined Peja International, which supplies machinery for animal feed and the livestock industry, and which is a representative of several Dutch manufacturers.

Asked what she had learned from working for a Dutch company, she noted that there is no big difference, socially or in status, between an employee and the head of a company, or between a student and a professor. "They are almost on an equal level: you can always ask for help. If you ask questions it means you are interested and involved."

She is passionate about The Netherlands but Lukyanova always knew that she would return home. She advises Russian students to broaden their horizons, learn in a multicultural environment but then to return and contribute to Russian society.

Russia - Holland 2013
Russia - Holland 2013
The Moscow Times is releasing its new "Russia - The Netherlands 2013" supplement, dedicated to economic and cultural cooperation between the two nations. The current edition is published in partnership with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
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